Role models of greatness.

Here you will discover the back stories of kings, titans of industry, stellar athletes, giants of the entertainment field, scientists, politicians, artists and heroes – all of them gay or bisexual men. If their lives can serve as role models to young men who have been bullied or taught to think less of themselves for their sexual orientation, all the better. The sexual orientation of those featured here did not stand in the way of their achievements.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Donald Windham and Sandy Campbell

Donald Windham, second from left, with dancer Tanaquil Le Clercq, painter Buffie Johnson, Tennessee Williams and Gore Vidal.

Gay partners Donald Windham (1920-2010) and Sandy Montgomery Campbell lend their names to a new literary award administered by Yale University to endow up to nine unrestricted $150,000* annual awards to emerging and established English language writers for outstanding achievement in fiction, nonfiction, and drama (it is possible that poetry may be included at a later time). The awards are administered by the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library at Yale, and winners are solely determined by experts in each field. Mr. Windham, who never went to college himself**, specifically requested that writers with no academic affiliation be considered. The awards are not operated by an application process. Instead, a steering committee solicits nominations, and a panel of judges selects the winners. The first nine recipients of these new awards were announced by live stream on March 4, 2013, and a ceremony conferring the awards will take place at Yale on September 10, 2013.

*To compare the richness of the Windham-Campbell awards, it should be noted that the Pulitzer Prizes for Literature and the National Book Awards are each worth only $10,000. Windham wished to ensure that the prizes would be substantial enough to enable each recipient to spend a full year writing, unencumbered by financial concerns.

**Immediately after high school, Windham worked at Atlanta’s Coca-Cola plant, rolling barrels through the factory. High school was the extent of his formal education.

The endowment for the prizes comes from the estate of openly gay writer Donald Windham, who died in 2010. A co-executor of Windham’s estate said that Mr. Windham’s will was quite specific about his intention to establish a fund for literary prizes, although he left the details of how such prizes should be awarded to be worked out by his estate’s executors and advisers at Yale.

Donald Windham was a minor, but well-regarded, author who relocated to New York City from Atlanta as a virtually penniless teenager. He quickly befriended Tennessee Williams, with whom he collaborated on a play, a stage adaptation of D. H. Lawrence's You Touched Me. Windham's social circle soon included the likes of Truman Capote, George Platt Lynes, George Balanchine, Paul Cadmus and Lincoln Kirstein. Windham wrote short stories and novels, including “Two People” (1965, available in a Kindle edition) about a married New York stockbroker who falls in love with a teenage Italian boy. He is perhaps best known, however, for his memoir, “Lost Friendships,” about his relations with Williams and Capote. Struck by the inaccuracy of Williams's own Memoirs, Windham published Williams's letters to him. Subsequently, Williams falsely claimed that Windham had not been granted permission to do so and trashed the volume, resulting in a very acrimonious and often public dissolution of their friendship.

Windham and Sandy Campbell (shown in photo as young men in Italy), were a well-known couple in New York’s gay literary circles. It was at a chance meeting at Paul Cadmus’ studio that Donald met Princeton undergraduate Sandy Campbell, who was modeling for one of Cadmus’ paintings. Windham and Campbell began a 45 year relationship that led to a collaboration as avid book collectors, voracious readers, and friends with many of the most important literary figures of their time. The couple lived together from 1943 until Campbell's death.

Windham wrote memoirs, novels, plays, short stories, and a children’s book. Campbell was a stage actor who also penned unsigned book reviews for The New Yorker and contributed articles to Harper’s Magazine and other publications. Campbell died in 1988, predeceasing Windham by 22 years. However, the partners lived so unostentatiously that it surprised many that Windham could leave a bequest large enough to generate more than a million dollars in prize money every year. His estate was amassed from a large inheritance from Campbell, successful investing and a very modest lifestyle.

In 1989, Windham gave Yale’s Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library a collection of his  papers, with the stipulation that the library would receive the balance of Windham’s literary estate. Yale describes The Donald Windham-Sandy Campbell Collection at the Beinecke as “a rich and diverse trove of correspondence between partners Windham and Campbell and such writers as Tennessee Williams, E. M. Forster, Truman Capote and Christopher Isherwood; other correspondence involves such notable writers as Carson McCullers, Marianne Moore, Graham Greene, Isak Dinesen and Paul Bowles.”

1955 portrait of Windham (standing) with life-partner Sandy Campbell by celebrity gay photographer and writer Carl Van Vechten.

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