Irish writers Deirdre Madden and Sonya Kelly each win $175,000 literary award

Novelist and playwright receive Windham Campbell Prize to support their work

Novelist Deirdre Madden and playwright Sonya Kelly have become the latest Irish writers to be awarded a Windham Campbell Prize, worth $175,000 (€162,000) each, to support their work and allow them to focus on their creative practice without financial concerns.

The selection committee – which remains anonymous – said: “Deirdre Madden’s novels bring to life the smallest movements of characters’ impulses and thoughts, portraying the intricacies of human lives with compassion and effortless depth. Sonya Kelly’s plays sparkle with the quirkiness of the everyday, exploding fleeting moments into lyrical revelations, as she grapples with human fragility and pathos.”

“In an industry with no guarantee of security,” Kelly said, “the Windham Campbell Prize offers the rare gift of a sustainable path moving through life, both inside and outside my writing career. I have often destroyed ideas by pitching too soon just to find a way to get paid. Then it all goes cold in the breeze of the open door. This award gives me the privilege of time and privacy, to go through that elusive process of turning ideas into dramas, to write with the door shut in the hope that I will open it again and say, ‘I’ve got one!’

“My sincerest thanks to the Windham-Campbell Prizes. There is now a dent in my floor where my jaw hit it, which will serve as a permanent reminder of this deeply humbling moment. It takes a village to raise a playwright. Thank you every single person whose work and wisdom illuminated the way to this incredible honour. Words fail. How delightfully ironic.”

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Madden said: “It’s a great honour to win the 2024 Windham Campbell Prize for Fiction, and it has also been such a surprise. To have such wonderful and such wholly unexpected news has been just amazing. I’m still astonished! Usually book prizes are connected to a recent publication, but this was more for the whole body of work I have produced over the years, and came out of the blue, totally unexpected. The news is still sinking in.

“I’m busy teaching in Trinity these days. The creative work is a bit on hold as I’m focused, with my colleague Paul Delaney, on a book we’re editing together about the legendary editor, David Marcus, to be published by Stinging Fly in the late summer to celebrate David’s centenary. So there’s lots happening!”

Madden is one of Ireland’s leading authors. Born in Toomebridge, Co Antrim, and now living in Dublin, her award-winning work explores the political, economic and personal through understated yet resonant prose, returning to themes of memory, the Troubles, identity, relationships and the role played by the arts in daily life. She won the Rooney Prize for Irish Literature in 1980, the Somerset Maugham Award in 1989 and was inducted into the Hennessy Literary Awards Hall of Fame in 2014. One by One in the Darkness (1996) and Molly Fox’s Birthday (2008) were both shortlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction. She is a member of Aosdána and codirector of the MPhil in creative writing at Trinity College Dublin.

Dubliner Kelly is an award-winning writer for theatre, film and TV, a skilled storyteller and an elegant stylist, whose work is simultaneously funny, thrilling, and deeply serious. From her Scotsman Fringe First Award-winning debut looking back at a myopic childhood, The Wheelchair on My Face (2011), to her most recent, The Last Return (2022), which also won a Fringe First award, Kelly expertly wields farce and satire to expose the cruelty and chaos roiling beneath the veneer of civilisation. Once Upon a Bridge (2021) was a finalist for the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain Best New Play Award. Kelly has won the Stewart Parker Award (2018), a Writers’ Guild of Ireland Award (2019) and the Dublin Fringe Award for Best Production (2014). A graduate of Trinity College, she lives in Dublin with her wife and daughter.

Michael Kelleher, director of the Windham-Campbell Prizes, said: “Each year, I feel incredibly honoured to call the eight recipients: to be the messenger delivering the entirely unexpected and life-changing news that they have been awarded $175,000. It is clear – now, more than ever – how challenging working in the creative industries, around the world, can be. A Windham Campbell Prize is intended to offer financial security, and through this freedom, the time and space to write, to think, to create – all without pressure or expectation.

Madden and Kelly were among eight writers honoured at Yale University . Also recognised were Kick the Latch US author Kathryn Scanlan; North American nonfiction writers Christina Sharpe and Hanif Abdurraqib; US dramatist Christopher Chen; and poets M NourbeSe Philip and Jen Hadfield.

Previous Irish writers that have been awarded a Windham-Campbell Prize include Darran Anderson (2023), Wong May (2022), Danielle McLaughlin (2019), Marina Carr (2017) and Abbie Spallen (2016).

The prizes were the brainchild of lifelong partners and book lovers Donald Windham and Sandy M Campbell. The first prizes were announced in 2013 and are administered by Yale University’s Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library. Recipients write in the English language and may live in any part of the world.

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