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University of Iowa News Release

May 8, 2003

Photo: Irish Nobel Laureate poet Seamus Heaney.Click here for a high-resolution version of the image.

Seamus Heaney Wins Truman Capote Award For Literary Criticism

"Finders Keepers: Selected Prose 1971-2001" by Irish Nobel Laureate poet Seamus Heaney, is the winner of the 2003 Truman Capote Award for Literary Criticism in Memory of Newton Arvin. The $50,000 Capote Award, the largest annual cash prize for literary criticism in the English language, is administered for the Truman Capote Estate by the University of Iowa Writers' Workshop.

The book, published in the United States by Farrar Straus & Giroux in 2002, with a paperback edition just released, was selected for the Capote Award by an international panel of prominent critics and writers -- Terry Castle, Garrett Stewart, Michael Wood, John Kerrigan, Elaine Scarry and William Gass -- 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 winner was determined by a tally of the votes.

The panelists' choices were reviewed and confirmed by Frank Conroy, director of the UI Writers' Workshop.

Writing for The New Yorker, past Capote Award winner Helen Vendler praised "Finders Keepers" for "A brimming metaphoric energy... a buoyant vivacity of description... reflective humor... and an imaginative penetration... unequalled in contemporary critical prose."

Robert Lowell dubbed Heaney "the most important Irish poet since Yeats."

Heaney, who received the Nobel Prize in 1995, was educated at Queen's College, Belfast, and St. Joseph's College.

In the United States, his teaching experience includes the University of California at Berkeley and Harvard University. In 1997 he was appointed Ralph Waldo Emerson Poet in Residence at Harvard. He is an Honorary Fellow at England's Oxford University, where he was a professor of poetry through 1994.

Among his many other honors are the E.C. Gregory Award, the Cholmondeley Award, the Somerset Maugham Award, the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize, the Denis Devlin Award, the Writer in Residence Award from the American Irish Foundation, the E.M. Forster Award, the Duff Cooper Memorial Prize, the Bennett Award

Heaney's poetry collections include "Death of a Naturalist," "Door into the Dark," "Wintering Out," "North," "Selected Poems 1965-1975," "Sweeney Astray. A version from the Irish by Seamus Heaney," "Station Island," "The Haw Lantern," "New Selected Poems 1966-1987," Seeing Things," "Opened Ground" and "Electric Light."

His volumes of prose and critical essays include "Preoccupations: Selected Prose 1968-1978," "The Government of the Tongue: The Place of Writing" and "The Redress of Poetry: Oxford Lectures."

Heaney's translation of "Beowulf" won the Whitbread Book of the Year Award, and he was co-translator of "Laments: Poems of Jan Kochanowski" and co-author of "Homage to Robert Frost."

The Truman Capote Estate announced the establishment of the Truman Capote Literary Trust in 1994, during a breakfast at Tiffany's restaurant in New York City, on the 40th anniversary of the publication of Capote's novella "Breakfast at Tiffany's." 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 Vendler of Harvard University, John Felstiner of Stanford University, John Kerrigan of Cambridge University, pianist/scholar Charles Rosen of the University of Chicago, Elaine Scarry and Philip Fisher of Harvard University, Malcolm Bowie of Oxford University and Declan Kiberd of University College, Dublin.

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 author's will, and the Annual Truman Capote Award for Literary Criticism in Memory of Newton Arvin reflects Capote's 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, Arvin's 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 America's most popular and critically acclaimed writers. Workshop alumnus and faculty member Marvin Bell is currently Iowa's first Poet Laureate.

This spring the Iowa Writers' Workshop became to first university-based organization to be honored with the National Humanities Medal, awarded by the U.S government to the nation's leaders in the humanities.

For UI arts information and calendar updates, visit http://www.uiowa.edu/artsiowa. To receive UI arts news by e-mail, ur-acr@uiowa.edu.

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa Arts Center Relations, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 351, Iowa City, IA 52242-2500.

CONTACT: Winston Barclay, 319-384-0073, winston-barclay@uiowa.edu.