Yale University announced the nine recipients of the 2015 Windham Campbell Prizes – named in honor of writer Donald Windham – on Feb. 24, which awards an unrestricted grant of $150,000 to outstanding writing in the genres of fiction, nonfiction and drama to allow talented novelists to practice their work without fear of financial burden. Helon Habila was among the individuals recognized.
As authors are nominated through an anonymous process for the Windham Campbell Prizes, Habila had no idea he was even being considered for the honor. So when he received an email telling him to call Windham Campbell, Habila thought it was a joke. But he called anyways.
“They put me on speaker,” Habila told George Mason. “They were all there, the judges, and they all congratulated me. It was like a dream.”
Habila is described as "that rare combination of storyteller and stylist who challenges expectations while deepening our empathy for ordinary people confronting extraordinary times" on the Windham Cambell Prizes website. He's the author of three novels, two of which have been recognized for their literary excellence: Waiting for an Angel (2002) was awarded the Commonwealth Writers Prize for Best first Novel (Africa Region) and Measuring Time (2007) won the Library of Virginia Literary Award for Fiction. Habila's newest novel, Oil on Water, was published in 2011.
In addition to his teaching job at George Mason, Habila is the contributing editor of Virginia Quarterly Review, and returns to Nigeria each summer to teach a writing workshop.
In response to receiving such a remarkable award, Habila said:
I had heard of the Windham Campbell prize before, but never in my wildest thoughts did I ever imagine I was on their radar. It is an honour to know that one's work is appreciated at such a level, that one's work matters. As Shakespeare wrote: Our praises are our wages. This is the highest praise indeed, for which I am most grateful.
Habila plans to take leave during the 2015-16 academic year to complete his next novel.