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SAS historian Dr Susan Williams wins Windham Campbell Prize


The Institute of Commonwealth Studies' Dr Susan Williams has been awarded a prestigious literary prize.

Dr Susan Williams

Dr Williams, who is a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, is a recipient of the 2023 Windham Campbell Literature Prize for nonfiction. Her books include the critically-lauded White Malice: The CIA and the Covert Recolonization of Africa and Who Killed Hammarskjöld? The UN, the Cold War, and White Supremacy in Africa, with the latter’s publication leading to a new, ongoing UN inquiry into the death of UN secretary-general Dag Hammarskjöld. Her book Colour Bar: The Triumph of Seretse Khama and His Nation was made into the film A United Kingdom, starring David Oyelowo and Rosamund Pike.

The Windham Campbell Prizes are administered by Yale University. The awarding committee citation noted that in her work Dr Williams “chronicles imperial legacies with a forensic eye, a historical mind and a decolonial sensibility for African agency; her findings are as stunning as they are transformative”. 

Dr Williams is a historian with a particular interest in imperialism and neo-colonialism and the interference of the West – both covert and overt – in the affairs of African states. Her research draws heavily on archives and other documentary sources, as well as oral testimonies and media. 

In a video made to mark her award, Dr Williams was filmed at Senate House Library, as well as other parts of the historic building. She compared her method of research as being “like that of a detective, trying to uncover what’s been in some places deliberately concealed, and in other cases has just disappeared.”

The Windham Campbell Prizes were established by Donald Windham following the death of his lifelong partner Sandy M Campbell in 1988. The aim of the Prizes is to draw attention to literary achievement and provide writers with the opportunity to focus on their work independent of financial concerns. Each of this year’s eight recipients receives $175,000 (£140,000) to enable them to continue writing.

Following the announcement of her award Dr Williams said:

“I am deeply honoured to be selected to join the very distinguished cohort of past and present winners of the Windham Campbell prize, whether they write fiction, plays, poetry, or nonfiction. The history of the prize – rooted in love and generosity – underlines the power and importance of the written word and is an inspiration to writers everywhere. It is justly called ‘The Writer’s Prize’.”