Wow! Athletes get big bucks and so do entertainers on the silver screen. But writers in their own time and way, may reach as many people and provide many more hours of enjoyment and solace. And yet, for most people, writing is not all that lucrative. Sure there are high-paid screenwriters and Stephen King is rolling in rupees. But when a wonderful writer like Elizabeth Strout wins the Pulitzer Prize, it comes with loads of prestige and perhaps higher advances down the road. But the cash prize is $10,000. It’s not exactly like winning the lottery.
But all this may change soon. Yale University has just announced a major new set of literary prizes with some big bucks attached to them. Hey, the more the merrier! Starting in 2012 or 2013, seven to nine grants of $150,000 each will be awarded to playwrights and both fiction and nonfiction writers. Called the Donald Windham-Sandy M. Campbell Literature Prizes, they will awarded to both established and up-and-coming writers. That means us — all of us! Anyone of us!
Who is the mysterious Mr. Windham? It seems that he’s a minor but reasonably successful writer. He penned short stories and a few novels. But he made his mark with two memoirs, including one called Lost Friendships about his links to Tennessee Williams and Truman Capote. The funds in his estate, which will generate more than $1 million a year for literary awards, are the fruits of a modest lifestyle, smart investing, and inheritance. Mr. Windham never went to college, so he specifically requested that writers with no academic backgrounds be considered.
How wonderful that someone who must have had a passion for writing decided at some point in his life to create prizes to acknowledge the work of other writers, both celebrated and unknown. What an amazing act of generosity! How worthy of the writing life and all it embodies. Bravo!