The University of Iowa
The University of Iowa News Services Home News Releases UI in the News Subscribe to UI News Contact Us

University of Iowa News Release

April 1, 2005

Fletcher's 'A New Theory For American Poetry' Captures 2005 Capote Award

"A New Theory For American Poetry: Democracy, the Environment, and the Future of Imagination," by Angus Fletcher, a distinguished professor emeritus at the City University of New York Graduate School, is the recipient of the 2005 Truman Capote Award for Literary Criticism in Memory of Newton Arvin.

The $30,000 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.

"A New Theory for American Poetry" was published in 2004 by the Harvard University Press, which also published Fletcher's "Colors of the Mind: Conjectures on Thinking in Literature."

Fletcher's book 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.

Harold Bloom, author of "The Western Canon," wrote: "Fletcher's new book is the crown of his career: bold, original, brimming with imaginative energy on every page. One doesn't have to agree with his interpretations of John Clare, Walt Whitman, and John Ashbery (I myself do not) to benefit enormously from reading Fletcher. He is an Orphic seer, a curious universal scholar of Renaissance vintage, a fusion of the best traits of Northrop Frye and Kenneth Burke, his true peers."

"This is one of the most important books about poetic imagination of the past half-century," asserted John Hollander, author of "Picture Window." "Lucid, generous in scholarly breadth, Fletcher analyzes our ideas of personal autonomy and political dependency. The book contains some of the most original discussions of John Clare, Walt Whitman, and John Ashbery I have ever seen. Fletcher's own independent energies and philosophical learning help shape a brilliant exploration of environment and its representation."

Critic Barbara Fisher wrote for the Boston Globe, "This is work of serious scholarship, a theory and defense of poetry that at once reveals and revels in the power and beauty of nature-based, descriptive verse."

And Nick Halpern of Free Verse concluded, "It is hard not to feel, at the end of Fletcher's book, that we have read not just an environment-poem written in the language of literary criticism but a quest romance with a happy ending."

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, Irish Nobel Laureate Seamus Heaney and Susan Stewart of Princeton 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 nearly 70 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.

In 2003 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.

The Writers' Workshop is an academic unit of the University of Iowa College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

For UI arts information and calendar updates, visit To receive UI arts news by e-mail,

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

MEDIA CONTACT: Winston Barclay, 319-384-0073,

PHOTOS are available at