CONTACT: WINSTON BARCLAY
100 Old Public Library
Iowa City IA 52242
(319) 384-0073; fax (319) 384-0024
Release: April 5, 2000
Harvard critics Elaine Scarry and Philip Fisher share 2000 Capote Award
IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Literary critics Elaine Scarry and Philip Fisher, faculty
members at Harvard University, will share the 2000 Truman Capote Award for
Literary Criticism in Memory of Newton Arvin, the largest annual cash prize
for literary criticism in the English language, administered for the Truman
Capote Estate by the University of Iowa Writers Workshop.
The $50,000 prize will be awarded in a free, public ceremony at 5 p.m. Monday,
April 17 in the Senate Chamber of the Old Capitol on the UI campus. Fisher
will be honored for his book "Still the New World," and Scarry will
be honored for "Dreaming By the Book." The event will include brief
addresses by both writers.
The books were selected for the Capote Award by an international panel of
prominent critics and writers -- Peter Sacks, Stephen Greenblatt, K. Anthony
Appiah, Richard Poirier, J.M. Coetzee and Michael Wood -- each of whom nominated
two books. Books of general literary criticism in English, published during
the last four years, are eligible for nomination. After reading all the nominated
books, each critic ranked the nominees, and the winners were determined by
a tally of the votes. This is the first year in which the Capote Award judging
has produced a tie.
The panelists choices were reviewed and confirmed by the awards
administrative committee: Frank Conroy, director of the UI Writers Workshop;
workshop faculty member Jorie Graham, winner of the 1996 Pulitzer Prize in
poetry; and fiction writer, philosopher and critic William Gass, head of the
International Writing Center at Washington University in St. Louis.
"Dreaming by the Book" was published in 1999 by Farrar Strauss
& Giroux. Scarrys other books include "The Body in Pain: The
Making and Unmaking of the World," "On Beauty and Being Just,"
"Literature and the Body," "Memory, Brain and Belief"
and "Resisting Representation."
In "Dreaming By the Book" Scarry, the Walter M. Cabot Professor
of Aesthetics and the General Theory of Value at Harvard, addresses the slippery
question of how poems and stories make us perceive what they describe. Wendy
Lesser, writing in the New York Times Book Review, called the book "a
willfully, maddeningly, inventively, surprisingly, exhaustingly kooky book.
. . . Scarrys mind is well worth grappling with."
Fisher is the Felice Crowl Reid Professor of English and American Literature
at Harvard. His other books include "Wonder, The Rainbow, and the Aesthetics
of Rare Experiences," and "Making and Effacing Art: Modern American
Art in a Culture of Museums."
"Still the New World" was published in 1999 by the Harvard University
Press, which describes the book as "a provocative new way of accounting
for the spirit of literary tradition," that "makes a persuasive
argument against the reduction of literature to identity questions of race,
gender, and ethnicity."
Critic George Kateb described "Still the New World" as "A
bold and original interpretation of what is distinctively American in the
realm of culture. Fishers emphasis on creative destruction
as the source of Americas continuous strangeness and freshness is greatly
rewarding. He lights up whole areas of cultural inquiry in a marvelously succinct
The Truman Capote Estate announced the establishment of the Truman Capote
Literary Trust in 1994, during a breakfast at Tiffanys restaurant in
New York City, on the 40th anniversary of the publication of Capote's novella
"Breakfast at Tiffanys." Among the breakfast guests were John
Updike, George Plimpton, Mary Tyler Moore, Patricia Neal, Dominick Dunne,
Geoffrey Holder and Richard Avedon.
Past winners of the Capote Award have been British scholar P.N. Fairbank,
Helen Vender of Harvard University, John Felstiner of Stanford University,
John Kerrigan of Cambridge University, and pianist/scholar Charles Rosen of
the University of Chicago.
In addition to the administration of the literary criticism award, the Writers
Workshop involvement with the trust includes the awarding of Truman Capote
Fellowships to UI students in creative writing.
The establishment of the Truman Capote Literary Trust was stipulated in the
authors will, and the Annual Truman Capote Award for Literary Criticism
in Memory of Newton Arvin reflects Capotes frequently expressed concern
for the health of literary criticism in the English language. The awards are
designed to reward and encourage excellence in the field.
Newton Arvin, in whose memory the award was established, was one of the critics
Capote admired. However, Arvins academic career at Smith College was
destroyed in the late 1940s when his homosexuality was exposed.
The first of the university-based creative writing programs that have collectively
transformed the terrain of American literary life, the UI Writers Workshop
has nurtured poets and fiction writers for more than 60 years. UI writing
alumni have won more than a dozen Pulitzer Prizes, have been honored with
virtually every other major American literary award, and count among their
number many of Americas most popular and critically acclaimed writers.
The latest accomplishments by UI writing alumni: within the last month John
Irving won the Academy Award for the screen adaptation of his novel "The
Cider House Rules," and workshop faculty member Marvin Bell was appointed
as Iowas first Poet Laureate.