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Friendships Lost; Windham’s Legacy

In Uncategorized, Writers on June 22, 2011 at 10:01 pm

In 1939, a Greyhound bus pulled into New York City, dusty from its trip north from Atlanta.  On board was Donald Windham, a young man of 19, full of literary ambition and gifted with the ability to befriend important people with astonishing speed.

Within two years of his arrival in New York, Windham was hired as an assistant by the brilliant Lincoln Kirstein for his magazine, The Dance Index,  and was collaborating with Tennessee Williams on a play, You Touched Me.

Windham seemed to know “everyone” in literary circles from Gore Vidal to Truman Capote, E.M. Forster, and Alice B. Toklas, among many others.

As a writer, he worked hard during his first 15 years in New York, yet got little published.

In 1962, Windham’s short story collection, The Warm Country, was published.  Three years later, a novel, Two People, was published to poor reviews, perhaps due to its gay theme.  It was not until he began publishing his memoirs, mining adventures with famous friends, that he received warm notices.  But not all of his friends were happy.  When Windham published Tennessee Williams’ Letters to Donald Windham, 1940-1965 in 1977, the great playwright cut all ties.  (Information mostly from Windham’s New York Times obituary by William Grimes.)

Windham died in 2010.  He and his partner, Sandy Campbell, who died in 1988,  left a substantial gift to Yale University to fund literature prizes.  Campbell and Windham were together since 1943.

The Donald Windham-Sandy M. Campbell Literature Prizes will be funded by the estate of American writer and memoirist Donald Windham, who died in May of 2010 at the age of 89. Seven to nine grants will be awarded each year starting in late 2012 or early 2013, and each grant will be worth $150,000, making the prizes some of the largest in English literature.

The program will award seven to nine $150,000 prizes annually to recognize both established and promising writers in fiction, non-fiction, and drama. Poetry may be added as a fourth category at a later time. Windham did not attend college, and therefore his will stated a particular interest in ensuring that writers who are not connected to an academic institution are included for consideration.

According to his will, Windham also wished to ensure that the prizes would be substantial enough to enable each recipient to spend a full year writing, unencumbered by financial concerns. —Yale Daily News

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