While your email junk folder usually serves to filter out all-caps enticements and bogus promises, you might want to take just a moment to skim the messages before deleting them forever. The Guardian reports that 73-year-old Australian author Helen Garner was reviewing junked email from a stranger when she learned that she had been chosen as the winner of a literary prize worth $150,000.
The email Garner received alerted her to “good news” and asked for her phone number, two things that she was certain were red flags. She told The Sydney Morning Herald that she checked with her publisher and then spoke to the director of the Windham-Campbell Prizes, who confirmed that she was being recognized for her writing. “I nearly keeled over,” Garner told the Herald. “I'm staggered. I feel thrilled and validated.” An active writer in various genres and formats for the past four decades, Garner said that she was proud to learn that the prize was for her nonfiction work.
In a statement, Garner said: "To be awarded a Windham-Campbell Prize for nonfiction validates in the most marvellously generous way the formal struggles that I’ve been engaged in over the past twenty years. It gives me the heart to keep going."
Established in 2013, the Windham-Campbell Prize is a fairly new award, with nine international authors chosen each year by nomination from a panel of anonymous judges who are either appointed by Windham or selected by the president of Yale University. There is no submission process, so Garner had no way of knowing that she was even on a shortlist, let alone that there was a check with her name on it somewhere. It’s fair to assume that other attempts would have been made to tell Garner the “good news,” but her email habits still serve as a lesson to us all.