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Woman finds news of $150,000 prize in her junk email — and it was real

According to the experience of Australian writer Helen Garner, it pays to check your email junk folder from time to time.

When the Melbourne resident recently took a quick look, she came across a message apparently from a Yale University employee who had some “good news” to share. The sender asked her to reply to the email with her phone number so they could call her about it.

Of course, with contents like that, it’s hardly surprising it ended up in the junk folder, but something about the message made her wonder if it might actually have been misplaced by her email service’s filters.

After speaking to her publisher and getting in touch with the university, the author learned she certainly did have some good news – she’d won the prestigious Windham-Campbell literary prize that included a handy $150,000 payout.

Garner told the SMH that she “nearly keeled over” when she learned of the win.

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Garner has written more than a dozen books – both fiction and nonfiction titles – with her most recent work, The House of Grief, delving into the case of a father accused of deliberately drowning his three young sons.

Eight other writers also picked up the prize, presuming they checked their junk folder, that is. Of course, had Garner ignored her junk messages or simply regarded the one from Windham-Campbell as a scam, Yale University would’ve found a way to let her know about her award. You’d hope.

But the incident nevertheless shows that it is worth dropping by your junk messages from time to time to see if anything genuine has inadvertently landed alongside those dodgy messages with subjects such as, “Julia wants you to know about this great site,” “Interesting business proposal,” and “All lonely wives need a friend.” It could be a message from an old friend, a newsletter you actually want to read, or notification of a $10 million lottery win. OK, scrub that last one, but you get the idea.

As for the Windham-Campbell award, it’s little wonder that recipients of the award were initially suspicious of the news (two other winners also thought it was a scam). According to the organizer’s website, “The prizes have no submission process. Writers are judged anonymously and unaware that they are in the running. Most are genuinely surprised when they receive the phone call from Michael Kelleher, director of the prize.”