Showalter book wins Truman Capote Award for Literary Criticism

Showalter book wins Truman Capote Award for Literary Criticism

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portrait of Elaine Showalter
Elaine Showalter. Photo courtesy of Claudio Vasquez.

A Jury of Her Peers: Celebrating American Women Writers from Anne Bradstreet to Annie Proulx, written by Elaine Showalter, professor emerita of English and Avalon Foundation Professor of the Humanities at Princeton University, and published by Knopf, is the winner of the 2012 Truman Capote Award for Literary Criticism in Memory of Newton Arvin.

The $30,000 award—the largest annual cash prize in English-language literary criticism—is administered for the Truman Capote Estate by the University of Iowa Writers' Workshop.

Showalter will accept the award next fall in a public event at the UI that will include remarks on the literary topic of her choosing. One of the founders of feminist literary criticism, Showalter has written and edited numerous books and articles on a variety of subjects, from Victorian literature to the history of psychiatry.

The book was chosen by an international panel of prominent critics and writers—Terry Castle, Garrett Stewart, Michael Wood, John Kerrigan, Elaine Scarry and Joyce Carol Oates—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 deeply honored by this award,” Showalter says, “and proud to be included among the distinguished list of former winners. I think that Truman Capote, as the longtime friend of Harper Lee, would be happy to see the prize go to the first literary history of American women writers.”

book cover of "A Jury of Her Peers"

In A Jury of Her PeersShowalter writes about more than 250 women writers, including the famous—Harriet Beecher Stowe, Dorothy Parker, Flannery O’Connor, and Toni Morrison, among others—and the little known, from the early American best-selling novelist Catherine Sedgwick to the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Susan Glaspell.

In the New York Review of Books Christopher Benfey called A Jury of Her Peers“capacious, engaging, and opinionated,” while Stephen Amidon in the London Sunday Times hailed it as a “superb study.” Alison Kelly in the Observerpraised a “magnificent, scholarly history of American women’s literature” which “carries its erudition lightly.” Elspeth Barker in the Literary Review called it a “prodigious undertaking ... written with a great generosity of spirit.” Katha Pollitt in Salon observed that “it’s a long book, but it doesn’t feel long at all because it is so full of information, ideas, stories, and characters.”

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; William Gass of Washington University in St. Louis; Helen Small of Pembroke College, Oxford University; Geoffrey Hill of Boston University; Seth Lerer of the University of California at San Diego; and Mark McGurl of the University of California at Los Angeles.

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.

The Writers' Workshop is a graduate program in the UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and the Graduate College. Explore the writing programs at the UI at And learn about the activities of Iowa City as a UNESCO City of Literature at


Connie Brothers, Writers' Workshop, 319-335-0419


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