Irish author Darran Anderson awarded $175,000 Windham-Campbell prize

Derry writer ‘grateful and slightly dazed’ on learning of the life-changing €160,000 award

An Irish author who writes in the margins of his job in retail in London is $175,000 (€160,000) richer this evening after he was one of eight writers worldwide to be awarded Yale University’s Windham-Campbell Prize.

Darran Anderson, an essayist and memoirist writing at the intersections of culture, politics, urbanism, and technology, has been recognised for his debut Imaginary Cities: A Tour of Dream Cities, Nightmare Cities, and Everywhere in Between (2015), a hugely ambitious analysis of real and imagined cities throughout history, and Inventory (2020), his searing memoir about growing up in poverty in Derry.

“With divinatory attention,” the award’s jury said, “Darran Anderson gives voice to the testimony of objects and geographies, chronicling the passage of individual memory as it turns into a community’s archive and sustaining myth.”

“My initial response,” Anderson said, “was ‘Holy ****! Is this real?’ or, to put it more diplomatically, ‘I’m surprised, grateful and slightly dazed at this very welcome and generous news.


“The award will make a huge difference. I work in retail in central London and I write on my lunchbreaks and at night when I should probably be sleeping. You start to realise precisely how rare and precious time is. If the award allows me more time to continue to be a writer and, more importantly, a father, I will be thrilled but I’m grateful, regardless of what the future holds. The story of Windham and Campbell is a truly beautiful one and it’s an honour to be part of their legacy.

“It’s not something I expected in a million years and it hasn’t quite sunk in yet. The past few years have been surreal, nightmarish at times, and this feels like the part of a dream where you just might wake up. I feel there’s a duty to live up to an award like this, to honour the faith they’ve put in my work, which I hope I can do. It’s an exciting challenge.”

Anderson is working on two long-term books that travel around the globe, one on architecture and the other on faith. He also has two books near completion: a memoir about hedonism, illness and nocturnal diving, and a “dark, adventurous” historical fiction novel on the Spanish Armada and Ireland.

One of the richest international literary awards, the Windham-Campbell prizes, administered by the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library at Yale University, were established in 2013 with a gift from the late Donald Windham in memory of his partner of 40 years, Sandy M Campbell. They recognise exceptional writers of fiction, non-fiction and drama who write in English.

Celebrating both literary legends and emerging talent, the list includes the critically acclaimed novelists Percival Everett and Ling Ma, US poet Alexis Pauline Gumbs and Iñupiaq-Inuit dg nanouk okpik, Tony nominated playwright Dominique Morisseau, trailblazing 24-year-old playwright Jasmine Lee-Jones, the youngest ever recipient, and historian Susan Williams. Each recipient is gifted an unrestricted grant to support their writing and allow them to focus on their work independent of financial concerns.

Michael Kelleher, director of the Windham-Campbell Prizes, said: “Reading this year’s recipients excited me because each one taught me new ways of seeing the past, the present, and the future. I can’t wait to see what each of them does next!”

Previous Irish or Irish-based recipients are poet Wong May (2022), writer Danielle McLaughlin (2019), and playwrights Marina Carr (2017) and Abbie Spallen (2016).

Martin Doyle

Martin Doyle

Martin Doyle is Books Editor of The Irish Times