• 2017 Windham-Campbell Prize winner Ali Cobby Eckermann holding her diploma. Photo Credit: Beowulf Sheehan (Beowulf Sheehan)Source: Beowulf Sheehan
Poet living in a caravan in South Australia collects major poetry prize in the US, worth more than $200,000.
NITV Staff Writer, Rachael Hocking

18 Sep 2017 - 2:36 PM  UPDATED 18 Sep 2017 - 3:16 PM

Australian poet Ali Cobby Eckermann has collected one of the richest prizes in literature. She attended a ceremony at Yale University last week, part of a three-day festival celebrating the craft of writing.     

Eckermann is one of eight writers of plays, poetry, fiction and nonfiction who received a Windham–Campbell Literature Prize in 2017, an award for US $165,000, ($205,000 AUD) issued annually by Yale University since 2013.

'My entire view of the world changed when I had the proof that I'd been wanted'
It had all the traits of a typical rags to riches story: a poet living out of a caravan wins one of the world's wealthiest literary awards. But behind the headlines, the story is far more humble. Ali Cobby Eckermann sat down with Rachael Hocking to talk family, culture and writing.

Eckermann, a member of the Stolen Generations, has been praised for her work, which she says is about re-connection to family and nature.


“[Poetry was] the only way I could understand the emotions I was feeling without going crazy,” she said at a panel event last week at Yale.

“I wanted to write healing poetry.”

The Windham–Campbell prizes cover four categories: fiction, non-fiction, drama, and poetry. It rewards and supports writers around in the world, whose work appears in English.

In February 2017, Eckermann said her life changed when she found out she had won the award.

“I was just enjoying my simple happy life and I noticed an email on my phone, and it said, 'We've just judged the Windham-Campbell Prize, can you please give us a call?'” she told NITV News.

“And I was thinking, 'Oh you know, I've heard about these scams,' and whatever. And my brain couldn't accept that, literally, Yale was ringing 'we've got great news,' I couldn't work out what that meant.”

It meant something significant: the Windham-Campbell Prize recognises English language writers from anywhere in the world.

The prize money is intended to allow winners to focus on their work without burden or constraint. This year is the first to include poetry as a category.

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