Academy Award-winning BlacKkKlansman Screenwriter Kevin Willmott wins 2020 Spalding Prize for the Promotion of Peace and Justice in Literature

Willmott, filmmaker and film professor, speaks at Spalding University on May 28.

By Kathleen Driskell, Chair, School of Creative and Professional Writing

I am delighted to announce that Academy Award-winning screenwriter Kevin Willmott is the 2020 recipient of the Spalding Prize for the Promotion of Peace and Justice in Literature. The Spalding Prize, which comes with an award of $7,500, was established to honor literary work that exemplifies the mission of Spalding University and its commitment to compassion.

Willmott, who in 2019 shared the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay for BlacKkKlansman, is also Professor of Film and Media Studies at the University of Kansas and has spent his filmmaking career taking on the subject of racism in America. He is known as both a screenwriter and director. A frequent collaborator with Spike Lee, his films include a satirical imagining of current-day America if the South had won the Civil War (CSA: The Confederate States of America, which he wrote and directed) and a retelling of Lysistrata in a violence-wracked neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side (Chi-Raq, which he co-wrote with Lee). The film critic Richard Brody called Willmott’s work “brilliantly imagined fictions.”

The prize will be awarded to Willmott during his visit to Spalding’s School of Creative and Professional Writing, home of the nationally distinguished low-residency Master of Fine Arts in Writing Program. After the award presentation, Willmott will speak about his experiences as a screenwriter, teacher, and civil rights activist. The event begins at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, May 28, in the Egan Leadership Center at the corner of Fourth and Breckinridge streets. The event is free, ticketless, and open to the public. Free parking is plentiful.

Kevin Willmott is an extraordinary screenwriter and teacher. His most recent film, BlacKkKlansman, which he wrote with Spike Lee and others, is the kind of work we aim to recognize with our Spalding Prize and bring to our students’ attention. BlacKkKlansman is courageous, unflinching, and beautifully written. Like his earlier work, it’s a relevant social commentary on our times. 

In 2019, the year Willmott won the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay with co-writers Spike Lee, David Rabinowitz, and Charlie Wachtel, the film was nominated for a total of six Academy Awards, including Best Picture. The screenplay was adapted from Black Klansman, Ron Stallworth’s memoir detailing his work as the first African-American detective to serve in the Colorado Springs Police Department, during which he infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan of Colorado Springs. BlacKkKlansman premiered at the Cannes Film Festival, where it won the Grand Prix. The American Film Institute named BlacKkKlansman one of the top films of 2018.

Willmott may be a familiar face to some Spalding students, alums, and faculty members. He has visited our MFA residency twice before, most recently to talk about Chi-Raq. That film was the first to be produced by Amazon Studios.

We’re excited to honor Willmott with our Spalding Prize and pleased that Spalding graduate students in creative and professional writing will have the chance to learn from him. Students will view BlacKkKlansman, CSA: The Confederate States of America, and  Destination: Planet Negro! and will read and discuss the script for BlacKkKlansman before Willmott visits Spalding to discuss his work.


Award-winning poet and teacher Kathleen Driskell is Chair and Professor of Creative Writing at Spalding University’s School of Creative and Professional Writing, home of the low-residency Master of Fine Arts in Writing program. Her newest poetry collection, Blue Etiquette, is available from Red Hen Press. Next Door to the Dead, winner of the 2018 Judy Gaines Young Book Award, is available from UPKY. She currently serves as Chair for the AWP Board of Directors. Follow her @kathdriskell or visit her blog at kathleendriskell.blogspot.com.


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