Helen Garner will probably start checking her junk email more often after this. The Australian writer was going through her junk mail folder when she discovered a notice that told her she’d won an American literary prize worth $150,000! That’s over $200,000 in Garner’s native Australia.
According to The Guardian, the email first struck Garner as untrustworthy. It claimed to be from someone at Yale University, explained that this person had good news, and asked Garner to supply her phone number. She was pretty skeptical.
But after checking with her publisher and with Yale officials, she was stunned to learn the truth: she’d won one of Yale’s Windham-Campbell prizes for writers, which are among the richest literary awards on the planet. “I nearly keeled over,” Garner told the Sydney Morning Herald.
Yale might want to consider the wording of their congratulations notices, because Garner was far from the only author who expressed disbelief when first told of the prize. Irish playwright Abbie Spallen “thought it was a scam” too, and Canadian playwright Hannah Moscovitch hung up before her voicemail even finished, assuming it was one of the common junk voicemails that try to convince recipients that they’ve won a cruise.
The confusion was further fueled by the fact that the Windham-Campbell prizes, somewhat uniquely among literary prizes, don’t have applications or a shortlist. Right up until the announcement, authors don’t even know if they’re in the running.
All of those factors combined led Garner and other writers to respond with disbelief. But luckily for the winners of this year’s awards, the Windham-Campbell prizes are no scam.