South African author Ivan Vladislavić wins Yale’s Windham-Campbell prize for fiction

Ivan Vladislavić, the writer and editor, has won the Yale University Windham-Campbell Prize for fiction. The cash it brings will allow him “to pursue my own work in a way that’s never been possible before”, says the Wits University professor.

Ivan Vladislavic Author Ivan Vladislavić has put South Africa on the global literature map once more with his winning of the Yale University Windham-Campbell Prize for fiction. (Image: Sophie Bassouls, A1 Verlag)


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Priya Pitamber

Ivan Vladislavić has added to his collection of accolades: the prestigious Yale University Windham-Campbell Prize for fiction.

“Since I received the news of the prize, I have been in a bit of a daze,” the author, editor and professor said after the announcement in late February.

“It is astonishingly generous and will make a decisive difference to my writing life.”

Vladislavić and the other winners, Teju Cole and Helon Habila, each received $150 000 (almost R1.8-million) for their work. There are three prize categories, namely fiction, non-fiction and drama.

The awards were established by Donald Windham and Sandy M Campbell in 2013 to honour literary talent.

The Windham-Campbell organisation noted Vladislavić’s unique approach to seeing history “in the quotidian and juxtaposing the banal and the bizarre”.

Watch Vladislavić receive his award:

In an interview with online literature magazine Aerodrome, he said he loved to write. “And I get some of the same pleasure from editing, which is about perfecting something, getting all the working parts to fit properly – constructing something.” This could be because as a child, he watched his mechanic father fix car engines, he said, taking things apart and putting them back together again.

Reaction to his win has been hugely positive. “A more worthy winner for this prestigious award would be hard to find,” said Fourie Botha, publisher of local fiction at Penguin Random House South Africa. Steve Connolly, the publishing house’s managing director, said that everyone should read Vladislavić.

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The Windham-Campbell Prize was not Vladislavić’s first. Other trophies on his display shelf include the Sunday Times Fiction Prize, the University of Johannesburg Prize and the Sunday Times Alan Paton Award for non-fiction. Despite this, the author is humble. “Thank you for recognising the work I’ve already done and for supporting the work I still want to do,” he told the Windham-Campbell organisation.

Although he did acknowledge that the prize money would make a difference. “For most of my working life, I’ve been a freelancer and it hasn’t always been easy to make ends meet,” he told Business Day. “Two extraordinary things have happened to me recently: I took up a distinguished professorship at Wits [University] and now I’ve won this prize. Together these two strokes of good fortune will allow me to pursue my own work in a way that’s never been possible before. I’m a lucky man.”