Seth Lerer Wins 2010 Truman Capote Award

Newswise — “Children’s Literature: A Reader’s History from Aesop to Harry Potter” by University of California, San Diego faculty member Seth Lerer, published by the University of Chicago Press, is the winner of the 2010 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 Capote Estate by the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop.

Lerer, dean of Arts and Humanities at UC San Diego, where he is Distinguished Professor in the department of literature, will receive the award in a free, public event at 4 p.m. Thursday, May 6, in the Senate Chamber of the Old Capitol on the UI campus. Lerer will speak on “Criticism and the Classroom,” and a reception will follow.

“Children’s Literature” was chosen by an international panel of prominent critics and writers – Terry Castle, Garrett Stewart, Michael Wood, John Kerrigan, Elaine Scarry and Elaine Showalter – 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.

The book, which previously won the 2009 National Book Critics Circle Award, is a scholarly volume also aimed at an audience beyond academe. The book is also a kind of “intellectual autobiography,” touching on Lerer’s own youthful passion for reading and his experience as a parent. “I thought about it from a personal view, watching how my son grew into a reader,” he said.

Maria Tatar of Harvard University called the book “a breathtakingly powerful and complex history of children’s literature that energizes rather than depletes.”

“Lerer gives us the facts,” Tatar said, “but he also weaves experiences and stories into an account that moves in registers ranging from the ecstatic to the elegiac. An ideal guide for students new to the field of children’s literature as well as for scholars familiar with the territory.”

Rachael Scarborough King wrote in the New Haven Review, “It’s a thick scholarly tome, but also a charming read that revels in children’s imaginations and the timeless works that stimulate them…. The book’s main attraction is its obvious delight in the subject matter: Lerer perfectly captures the love of literature that follows a voracious child reader into adulthood.”

And a starred review in the Library Journal raved, “Lerer has accomplished something magical. Unlike the many handbooks to children’s literature that synopsize, evaluate, or otherwise guide adults in the selection of materials for children, this work presents a true critical history of the genre….

“Scholarly, erudite, and all but exhaustive, it is also entertaining and accessible. Lerer takes his subject seriously without making it dull.”

Lerer is also the author of “Inventing English: A Portable History of the Language,” “Error and the Academic Self,” “Courtly Letters in the Age of Henry VIII,” “Chaucer and His Readers,” “Boethius and Dialogue: Literary Method in the Consolation of Philosophy” and “Literacy and Power in Anglo-Saxon Literature.”

Lerer has received grants and fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Huntington Library. He holds degrees from Wesleyan University and the University of Oxford, and he earned his doctorate at the University of Chicago.

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; and Geoffrey Hill of Boston University.

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. Explore the writing programs at the UI at

About UC San Diego
Founded in 1960, the University of California, San Diego is ranked the best value public university in California by Kiplinger’s Personal Finance magazine and the 7th best public university in the nation by U.S. News and World Report. Named the “hottest” institution to study science by Newsweek, UC San Diego is one of the nation’s most accomplished research universities, widely acknowledged for its local impact, national influence and global reach. Renowned for its collaborative, diverse and cross-disciplinary ethos that transcends traditional boundaries in science, arts and the humanities, the university attracts stellar faculty, students and staff. For more information, please visit

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