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Release: May 15, 2002

Declan Kiberd’s ‘Irish Classics’ wins 2002 Capote Award

“Irish Classics” by Declan Kiberd, head of the English department at University College Dublin, is the winner of the 2001 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 Harvard University Press and by Granta in Ireland and the UK, was selected for the Capote Award by an international panel of prominent critics and writers -- Terry Castle, Garrett Stewart, Michael Wood, John Kerrigan, William Gass and Peter Brooks -- 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.

Harvard University Press describes the “Irish Classics” as “a celebration of the tenacious life of the enduring Irish classics… by one of Irish writing's most eloquent readers.” The book surveys Irish literature in both Gaelic and English, beginning in 1600, including Kiberd’s idiomatic translations of Gaelic poems for English-speaking readers.

Kiberd is also the author of “Inventing Ireland,” a winner in the Irish Times Irish Literature Prizes. “Irish Classics” has already won the Robert Rhodes Award from the American Committee of Irish Studies.

Critic Colin Cardwell commented, “‘Irish Classics’ is a magisterial, yet passionate, evocative and wonderfully accessible journey through the literary masterpieces in both Irish and English from the 16th century to the present. . . It is a tale of constant decline, fall and rebirth; of a country with a persistent talent for reinvention that, amid waves of cultural waves, informs and drives the vitality of Irish Literature.”

And the critic of the Tribune (UK) wrote, “What Kiberd has succeeded in doing so remarkably is to draw together the writers in the two languages and in diverse cultural traditions within the same critical-historical framework. . . [His] critical sophistication is connected seamlessly to the masterly and thought-provoking introductory essays on his 30-plus authors and texts. Kiberd’s critical language is wonderfully malleable and versatile.”

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, Elaine Scarry and Philip Fisher of Harvard University, and Malcolm Bowie of Oxford 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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