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University of Iowa News Release

 

April 30, 2008

Helen Small wins 2008 Truman Capote Award for literary criticism

"The Long Life" by Helen Small, a faculty member of Pembroke College, Oxford University, is the winner of the 2008 Truman Capote Award for Literary Criticism in Memory of Newton Arvin. "The Long Life" was published in the fall of 2007 by Oxford University Press.

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. Small will accept the award in a fall event on the UI campus.

"The Long Life" examines old age in literature and moral philosophy by inviting readers to range widely from the writings of Plato through to recent philosophical work by Derek Parfit, Bernard Williams and others, and from Shakespeare's 'King Lear' through works by Thomas Mann, Balzac, Dickens, Beckett, Stevie Smith and Philip Larkin, to more recent writing by Saul Bellow, Philip Roth and J. M. Coetzee.

Small argues that if we want to understand old age we have to think more fundamentally about what it means to be a person, to have a life, to have (or lead) a good life and to be part of a just society.

Small is the author of "Love's Madness: Medicine, the Novel, and the Female Insanity, 1800-1865," and the editor or co-editor of books including "Literature, Science, Psychoanalysis, 1830-1970, Essays in Honour of Gillian Beer," "Practice and Representation of Reading in England," "Public Intellectual," and editions of works by Dickens, Menie Muriel Dowie and George Eliot.

"The Long Life" was chosen by an international panel of prominent critics and writers -- Terry Castle, Garrett Stewart, Michael Wood, John Kerrigan, Elaine Scarry and James 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.

"I'm delighted, honored, and currently reading Newton Arvin with pleasure and admiration," Small responded. "He wrote almost exclusively on American literature, so had not been much within my ambit until now. I'd like to say something about his writing in my acceptance speech -- ideally in connection with my book's subject.

"Until 'The Long Life' my research and writing were concentrated primarily in the Victorian period, so this book represented a big elastication for me. I held a Major Leverhulme Research Fellowship from 2001 to 2004, spending much of it as a visiting scholar at New York University. Without that extended period of leave I could not have attempted anything on this scale, so I am deeply grateful to the Leverhulme Trust."

The Truman Capote Estate announced the establishment of the Truman Capote Literary Trust in 1994, during a breakfast at Tiffany's in New York City, on the 40th anniversary of the publication of Capote's novella "Breakfast at Tiffany's."

Past winners of the Capote Award have been British scholar P.N. Furbank, 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, Susan Stewart of Princeton University, Angus Fletcher of the City University of New York Graduate School, Geoffrey Hartman of Yale University and William Gass of Washington University in St. Louis.

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 a graduate program in the UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. Explore the writing programs at the UI at http://writinguniversity.uiowa.edu.

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