After high school, his mother found him a job in a Coca-Cola factory, where he rolled barrels through the warehouse and harbored dreams of becoming a writer. During his off hours, he fell in with a group of local artists and writers, including Fred Melton. The two became lovers and before long left together for New York.
Windham and Melton shared several Manhattan apartments in the late 1930s and early '40s. It was during this period that they befriended another young writer who would have a substantial impact on Windham’s life: Tennessee Williams. After meeting Williams, Windham was swept into the upper echelons of New York artistic society, becoming friends with W.H. Auden, Tony Smith, Glenway Wescott, Paul Cadmus, and Truman Capote. Capote and Windham met in the forties and remained friends throughout their lives.
Williams, already an experienced writer, also provided professional inspiration to Windham, who began writing short stories about his early years in Georgia. In the decades that followed, the two developed a friendship that included a co-written play, decades of correspondence, a novel by Windham about Williams, and a very public dissolution of their friendship in the 1970s.
It was a chance meeting at Paul Cadmus’ studio, however, that proved to be of greater and more lasting importance. On a visit with Melton, Windham met a Princeton undergraduate named Sandy Campbell, who was modeling for one of Cadmus’ paintings. Windham and Campbell began a relationship that would last until Campbell’s death in 1988.
In 1942, while writing his first novel, The Dog Star, as well as You Touched Me, the play he co-wrote with Tennessee Williams, Windham began working as Lincoln Kirstein’s assistant at the magazine Dance Index. When Kirstein was drafted into the military in 1943, he handed the editorship over to the young writer.
As Bruce Kellner notes in Donald Windham: A Bio-bibliography, Windham soon enlarged his circle of acquaintances to include future Vogue photographer George Platt Lynes, artist Joseph Cornell, set designer Pavel Tchelitchew, choreographer George Balanchine, dancer Tanaquil Leclerq, and photographer and writer Carl Van Vechten.
When You Touched Me appeared on Broadway in 1945, the play earned enough to support Windham during a crucial period. He finished The Dog Star, which would not find an American publisher until 1950, despite having impressed both Thomas Mann and André Gide.
Windham’s work often found a more sympathetic audience in Europe than in the States. This changed for a time in 1960s, when he enjoyed his most sustained period of literary success. He published his novel based on the life of Tennessee Williams, The Hero Continues, in 1960, the same year he was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship.
He also began to publish a series of recollections of his childhood in The New Yorker. These eventually grew into a highly-regarded personal memoir, Emblems of Conduct, the success of which helped see into print his collection of short stories, The Warm Country, featuring an introduction by E.M. Forster.
This acclaim was short-lived, however. His novel, Two People, about a married man who falls in love with a teenage boy in Rome, was savaged by critics. From then on, most of his books were brought out first in private editions, a few of which eventually found their way to mainstream publishers.
His relationship with Tennessee Williams took a darker turn in the 1970s, beginning with the publication of Williams’s memoirs. Feeling that the Williams depicted in the book bore little resemblance to the man he knew, Windham asked for and received permission to publish the letters he’d received from his friend. But when the letters were printed in a second edition by Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, Williams took offence to what he considered an unflattering presentation and accused Windham and Campbell of drugging and coercing him into signing over the copyright.
The argument spilled out into the editorial pages of the New York Times with remarkable ferocity, pitting friend against friend, even placing mutual friends such as Truman Capote in the position of having to choose sides. Lawsuits and recriminations followed for the better part of a decade before the friendship finally dissolved in acrimony.
The joys and vicissitudes of his long relationships with Williams and Capote are chronicled in Windham’s memoir, Lost Friendships. Of his two famous friends he wrote, “As highly rewarded with celebrity and money as they were, each considered himself underappreciated… a personal example of the failure of America to value and recompense its artists.”
Windham, too, felt underappreciated, but his reputation as a writer has continued to grow. Emblems of Conduct is an exemplar of the creative non-fiction genre, and Windham's early and fearless representation of gay characters in his fiction has made works like Two People and the short story "Servants With Torches" essential reading in Gay Studies classes.
Sandy Campbell was born in New York City in 1922. His father owned a chemical manufacturing company that provided for the family. After attending the Kent School in Connecticut, Campbell studied at Princeton University, where he nourished his two abiding passions: acting and literature.
He soon made his way to the Broadway stage, where he landed roles in Life with Father, the revival of Spring Awakening, and A Streetcar Named Desire. Over two decades in the theater, he shared the stage with Marlon Brando, Spencer Tracy, Jessica Tandy, Tallullah Bankhead, Lynne Fontaine, Alfred Lunt, Lois Smith and many others.
A chance meeting at the studio of Paul Cadmus, where Campbell was modeling for one of the artist’s paintings, brought him together with Donald Windham. The two remained romantic partners for the rest of Campbell’s life.
Alongside his acting ambitions, Campbell was a devoted reader, book collector, writer, and publisher. He began collecting at an early age and maintained the habit of finding the home address of an author, and writing to ask if he could send along his book to be signed.
His library included signed first editions by Graham Green, Vladimir Nabokov, William Faulkner, and E.M. Forster as well as books personally annotated by authors such as Katherine Anne Porter, Isak Dinesen, Alice B. Toklas, and Marianne Moore. Most of these are housed in the Windham-Campbell collection at the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library.
Campbell also wrote profiles of Nora Joyce, E.M. Forster, and the tandem of Lynn Fontanne and Alfred Lunt for Harper's Magazine. He worked for many years as a fact checker for The New Yorker, where he also wrote unsigned book reviews.
His book, B: Twenty-Six Letters from Coconut Grove, documents his time working on a revival of A Streetcar Named Desire alongside Tallulah Bankhead, the “B” of the title.
His longest standing literary commitment was to Donald Windham and his writing. When Campbell’s acting career ended in the late 1950s, his focus turned to editing and publishing. Publishers began losing interest in Windham starting in the mid-sixties, so Campbell took it upon himself to make sure his work saw the light of day.
He contracted with the Italian publisher Stamperia Valdonega, and over the next twenty-five years brought out numerous exquisitely-crafted editions of Windham’s books, several of which found their way to large publishing houses, due in no small part to Campbell’s efforts.
When he died in 1988, Sandy Campbell left his estate to Donald Windham, with the tacit understanding that someday all or part of it would be used to create a prize to support writers.
The Windham-Campbell Prizes are the result.
Circle of Friends
Tanaquil LeClercq, Donald Windham, Buﬃe Johnson, Tennessee Williams, and Gore Vidal. In an essay on this photo, Vidal writes that “it perfectly evokes an optimistic time in our history that we are not apt to see again soon.” Credit: Karl Bissinger.
Donald Windham and Tennessee Williams met in 1939. Their correspondence lasted until a few years before the latter’s death. Credit: Sandy Campbell.
Guthrie McLintock, Tennesee Williams, Thornton Wilder, and Donald Windham at the 1945 Boston dress rehearsal for You Touched Me!
Windham befriended Truman Capote in 1948 and the two remained close throughout their lives. Credit: Sandy Campbell.
Artist Paul Cadmus’s studio was the site of the ﬁrst meeting of Windham and Campbell. Campbell, then an undergraduate at Princeton, was modeling for Cadmus on the day when Windham paid a visit. Credit: Carl Van Vechten.
Montgomery Clift originated the role of Hadrian in You Touched Me!
E. M. Forster wrote the introduction to Donald Windham’s collection of short stories, The Warm Country. Credit: Sandy Campbell.
When he was drafted in 1943, Lincoln Kirstein handed the editorship of Dance Index to Donald Windham. Through his work there, Windham came into contact with Carl Van Vechten, George Platt Lynes, Joseph Cornell, George Balanchine, and many others. Credit: George Platt Lynes.
Windham met artist Joseph Cornell at Dance Index, where the latter designed the covers. The two remained friends for many years, often meeting in Manhattan for lunch and sharing an aﬀectionate correspondence.
Both Windham and Campbell knew Marianne Moore, who contributed an essay to Dance Index and corresponded with Campbell. Credit: George Platt Lynes.
Windham met Carl Van Vechten through his work at Dance Index. Credit: Carl Van Vechten.
Thomas Mann counted himself among Windham’s admirers, once stating in an interview that he considered The Dog Star to be one of the best novels of 1950. Credit: George Platt Lynes.
Campbell acted with Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne and published a portrait of the pair in Harper's Magazine.
Sandy Campbell worked with Tallulah Bankhead on a revival of A Streetcar Named Desire. His letters to Windham about the rehearsals were published as B: 26 Letters from Coconut Grove.
Windham befriended André Gide and his partner, Pierre Hebart. He translated the latter’s memoir, A Key to Andre Gide, for Noonday. Credit: George Platt Lynes.
Campbell corresponded with Katherine Anne Porter, who once sent him a personally annotated copy of her collected stories. Credit: George Platt Lynes.
Painter Fritz Bultman designed the cover for Windham’s novel Stone in the Hourglass. Credit: Sandy Campbell.
Windham met and befriended Christopher Isherwood through Tennessee Williams. Credit: George Platt Lynes.
Windham met the novelist Glenway Wescott through Carl Van Vechten. Credit: George Platt Lynes.
Windham’s literary champion in England was writer and editor J.R. Ackerly. Credit: Sandy Campbell.
Both Windham and Campbell corresponded with the Danish author Isak Dinesen and once met her in person.
Windham and Campbell met poet W. H. Auden in the ﬁfties and counted the poet among their friends.
Sandy Campbell corresponded with Alice B. Toklas and later published a volume of letters to him. Pictured here are Toklas, Jose Quintero, Windham, and an unknown friend. Credit: Sandy Campbell