Elaine Showalter receives the Truman Capote Award for Literary Criticism

Elaine Showalter received the Truman Capote Award for Literary Criticism in Memory of Newton Arvin in a public event at 4 p.m. Friday, Sept. 14, in the Senate Chamber of the Old Capitol on the University of Iowa campus. Showalter was honored for A Jury of Her Peers: American Women Writers from Anne Bradstreet to Annie Proulx, published in 2009 by Knopf.

The $30,000 award—the largest annual cash prize in English-language literary criticism—is administered for the Truman Capote Estate by the Iowa Writers' Workshop. The Sept. 14 event will include remarks by Showalter on a topic of her choosing, followed by a reception.

Showalter's book was chosen by an international panel of prominent critics and writers, 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.

In A Jury of Her Peers, Showalter introduces readers to more than 250 writers, both famous and unexpected. Harriet Beecher Stowe, Willa Cather, Dorothy Parker, Flannery O’Connor, Gwendolyn Brooks, Grace Paley, Toni Morrison, and Jodi Picoult are joined by acclaimed yet little-known writers, from the early American bestselling novelist Catherine Sedgwick to the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Susan Glaspell.

Characterizing Showalter as “a groundbreaking feminist scholar,” a starred review in Publishers Weekly observed, “By covering the lives and careers of hundreds of American women writers of all backgrounds, this survey is ambitious and galvanizing, contributing to feminist theory without itself reading like theory. Diverse beyond easy description, these women, especially in earlier centuries, have two things in common. One is an almost universal break with patriarchal constructs. Second is gaining independence from European literary models, female as well as male.”

Joyce Carol Oates called the book, “a work of astonishing vision, breadth, intelligence, and audacity.”

Showalter, professor emerita of English and Avalon Foundation Professor of the Humanities at Princeton University, was one of the founders of feminist literary criticism, and she has written and edited numerous books and articles on a variety of subjects, from Victorian literature to the history of psychiatry.

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 P.N. Furbank, Helen Vendler, John Felstiner, John Kerrigan, Charles Rosen, Elaine Scarry and Philip Fisher, Malcolm Bowie, Declan Kiberd, Seamus Heaney, Susan Stewart, Angus Fletcher, Geoffrey Hartman, William Gass, Helen Small, Geoffrey Hill, Seth Lerer, and Mark McGurl.

In addition to the administration of the literary criticism award, the Writers' Workshop involvement with the trust includes awarding 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.