Poet Goes From Unemployed to Prize Winner Overnight

An unemployed Australian poet who lives in a camper just learned that she has won a Windham Campbell Prize. One of the world’s most lucrative literary prizes, it awards poet Ali Cobby Eckermann the equivalent of $165,000 (via NPR).

The news came out of the blue. Eckermann tells The Guardian Australia that “It’s going to change my life completely.”

Of Yankunytjatjara/Kokatha heritage, Eckermann suffered under Australia’s assimilation policies that created what is known as “the Stolen Generations.” She was forcibly taken from her mother when she was a just a baby, just as her own mother had been.

Eckermann says the money will provide stability for her family. “My son and my grandsons are moving back to South Australia in the next few months, and it will just allow us some stability to grow up together under the one roof … I haven’t really had that option before in my life. Just the thought of maybe being able to purchase a home or rent a home, and for us to be together and have that stability is something pretty new to me.”

Ruby MoonlightJust one of her books has been published in the US, the verse novel Ruby Moonlight, (Flood Editions, 2015, avail. to backorder). Her first book of poetry was Little Bit Long Time, published by Australian Poetry as part of their New Poets series in 2009. Other works include the collection Inside My Mother and her memoir Too Afraid to Cry.

In the constellation of literary prizes, the Windham Campbell operates far under the radar. Nominees do not know they are being considered, nominators and judges are kept confidential, and there is no publicly announced shortlist. Winners only know they were in the running once they win.

The award is administered by Yale’s Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library and was founded by the author Donald Windham and honors his lifelong partner Sandy M. Campbell. It is designed to “to call attention to literary achievement and provide writers with the opportunity to focus on their work independent of financial concerns.”

The other winners this year are:

André Alexis (Canada/Trinidad and Tobago) for Fiction

Erna Brodber (Jamaica) for Fiction

Marina Carr (Ireland) for Drama

Ike Holter (US) for Drama

Carolyn Forché (US) for Poetry

Maya Jasanoff (US) for Nonfiction

Ashleigh Young (New Zealand) for Nonfiction

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