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University of Iowa News Release

Sept. 1, 2004

Poet/Critic Susan Stewart Will Accept 2004 Capote Award Sept. 17

"Poetry and the Fate of the Senses," by poet/critic Susan Stewart of Princeton University, is the recipient of the 2004 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.

Stewart will receive the award and read from her poetry collection "Columbarium," which won the National Book Critics Circle Award earlier this year, at 4 p.m. Friday, Sept. 17, in the South Room of the Iowa Memorial Union on the UI campus. The event is open to the public, free of charge.

"Poetry and the Fate of the Senses" examines the role of the senses in the creation and reception of poetry. And it also traces the path of the aesthetic experience in search of an explanation for the role of poetry in the creation of the shared meaning that is fundamental to cultural identity.

Calling Stewart's book "both physically and poetically big," Scott Hightower of Fordham University wrote for the Library Journal that it "ambitiously traces 'the path of the aesthetic in search of an explanation for the role of poetry in our culture.' In a book much like Burke's 'On the Sublime' or Kant's 'Observations on the Sublime,' Stewart tacks from darkness and grief to sound, poetic voice, lyric possession, the deictic now (measure and time), and the nocturne.

"She contends that poetry 'makes tangible, visible and audible the contours of our shared humanity,' that it 'sustains and transforms the threshold between individual and social existence.' Drawing from many examples of poetry, from the ancient Greeks to the post-moderns, she explores the interplay between somatic apprehensions (sound, listening, touch, vertigo) and formal orders."

Stewart's book, which was published by the University of Chicago Press in 2002, 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.

Stewart's other books of criticism include "On Longing: Narratives of the Miniature, the Gigantic, the Souvenir, the Collection"; "Crimes of Writing: Problems in the Containment of Representation"; and "Nonsense." Her collected essays on art, "The Open Studio: Essays in Art and Aesthetics," is forthcoming from the University of Chicago Press.

She also co-translated Euripides' "Andromache" with Wesley Smith, and the poetry and prose of the Scuola Romana painter Scipione with Brunella Antomarini.

Stewart is the recipient of a Lila Wallace Individual Writer's Award, two grants in poetry from the National Endowment in the Arts, a Pew Fellowship for the Arts and fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the MacArthur Foundation. Stewart teaches the history of poetry and aesthetics at Princeton University.

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, Declan Kiberd of University College, Dublin, and Irish Nobel Laureate Seamus Heaney.

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.

Last year the Iowa Writers' Workshop became the 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.

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