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Release: April 5, 2001

Oxford critic Bowie wins $50,000 UI's Capote Award

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- "Proust Among the Stars" by Oxford University faculty member Malcolm Bowie, published by Columbia University Press in the United States and by Fontana Press/HarperCollins in the United Kingdom, is the winner of the 2001 Truman Capote Award for Literary Criticism in Memory of Newton Arvin. The 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 $50,000 prize will be awarded in a free, public ceremony at 4 p.m. Saturday, April 28, in the Senate Chamber of the Old Capitol on the UI campus in Iowa City. The event will include a brief address by Bowie, who is the Marshal Foch Professor of French Literature at Oxford, a Fellow of All Souls College and Director of the European Humanities Research Centre.

The book was selected for the Capote Award by an international panel of prominent critics and writers -- Peter Sacks, John Kerrigan, 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 winner was determined by a tally of the votes.

The panelists' choices were reviewed and confirmed by the award's administrative committee: Frank Conroy, director of the UI Writers' Workshop; long-time 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.

"Proust Among the Stars" was one of the Los Angeles Times "Best Books of 1999." Victor Brombert of the Times wrote, "Bowie's very personal voice, his ability to be tersely abstract while remaining closely bound to the sensuous rhythms of the narrative, suffices to renew one's faith in the value of literary criticism. He can say more in three sentences than many a scholar in a belabored chapter. His erudition is graceful, and his references, including classical sources, are not presented to flaunt his knowledge but to bring the reader into more meaningful contact with the text under discussion."

British critic Brendan King wrote that: "no one could read Bowie's book without returning to Proust refreshed. One of the hallmarks of good criticism is that it sends you back to the text with a clearer vision and a more perceptive eye, and this is precisely what Malcolm Bowie's incisive and enthusiastic analysis does."

A.S. Byatt wrote in the London Telegraph, "Malcolm Bowie is one of our best living critics. He writes beautifully, subtly and lucidly about very difficult subjects. He explains genuinely complex ideas with wit and clarity because he understands them through and through."

And Albert Sonnefeld wrote, "This is a splendid piece of work: literate, elegantly written, intensely readable. It is organized exactly the way a book on Proust has to be as a personal and personable essay, as a revelation of the pleasure Bowie takes in his own style, as a suggestion of the richness that lies in each passage selected for analysis."

Bowie's other books include "Psychoanalysis and the Future of Theory," "Mallarme in Prose," "The Mortality of Proust," "Freud, Proust, and Lacan: Theory as Fiction," "Henri Michaux, a study of his literary works," "Mallarme and the Art of Being Difficult," "Baudelaire, Mallarme, Valery" and "Lacan."

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 Vender of Harvard University, John Felstiner of Stanford University, John Kerrigan of Cambridge University, pianist/scholar Charles Rosen of the University of Chicago, and Elaine Scarry and Philip Fisher of Harvard University

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 faculty member Marvin Bell is currently Iowa's first Poet Laureate.

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