NEXT time you’re checking through your emails, don’t glaze over the junk folder — because it could be holding hundreds of thousands of dollars in prize money.
Well, at least that was the case for Australian author Helen Garner, who found out she was the recipient of a $207,633 literary prize through an email that ended up in her junk folder.
At first, Garner thought the email from Yale University was a hoax.
The email revealed they had good news, and wanted to speak with her over the phone.
Garner contacted her publisher and then followed up with the university, only to find out she had won an honorary award for writers, known as the Windham-Campbell prize.
Established three years ago by late novelist Donald Windham, the prize commends nine writers each year, from any country who wrote in English, for their “literary achievements or their potential” in fiction, nonfiction or drama.
To Garner’s disbelief, she was one of the winners.
“I nearly keeled over,” Garner told Fairfax. “I’m staggered. I feel thrilled and validated.”
Garner, 73, has written more than a dozen books of fiction and nonfiction. Her most recent book, The House of Grief, explores the case of a father accused of drowning his sons.
In a statement, Garner said the award “validates in the most marvellously generous way the formal struggles that I’ve been engaged in over the past 20 years. It gives me the heart to keep going”.
Garner wasn’t the only recipient to react in disbelief to winning the award and prize money.
In Ireland, Abbie Spallen told the Irish Times she “thought it was a scam,” while Canadian playwright Hannah Moscovitch didn’t listen to the voicemail on her phone, thinking it said “Congratulations, you’ve won a cruise to Florida if you pay $200”.
“The fact that the prize is for nonfiction is the most gratifying part,” Garner told Fairfax.
“Those books took a lot of skin off me, and over the past year, since This House of Grief came out, I concluded that there was something about the book that was not prize-worthy. It is shaming to care whether you win a prize or not, but something infantile is stirred in you.”
The judges commended Garner for her “intelligent, lucid and often disturbing” writing and for bringing “acute observations and narrative skill to bear on the conflicts and tragedies of contemporary Australian life”.
Aside from Garner, the other prize winners hail from the United States, United Kingdom, India and Ireland.