Stanford University Home

Stanford News Archive

Stanford Report, December 9, 1998

George Steiner wins Truman Capote award: 12/98

Literary Critic George Steiner wins Truman Capote Award

The Truman Capote Trust and the Creative Writing Program at Stanford University are pleased to announce that George Steiner is the recipient of the 1998 Truman Capote Lifetime Achievement Award in memory of Newton Arvin. The award of $100,000 is given every four years to a distinguished literary critic whose work reflects "those virtues of the best literary criticism: intelligence, insight, sympathetic imagination, the love and propagation of literature that open the possibility for human growth and understanding." Criticism -- as Truman Capote valued it and Newton Arvin enacted it -- is primarily concerned with illuminating literature rather than articulating or advancing critical theory. The first recipient of the award was Alfred Kazin in 1996.

George Steiner was born in 1929 in Paris to a Viennese mother and a Bohemian father. His family moved to the United States in 1940. He was educated at the universities of Chicago, Harvard and Oxford. For many years he has lived in Cambridge in England. His numerous honors and appointments include Fulbright and Guggenheim Fellowships, and the Morton Dauwen Zaubel Prize from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He served on the editorial staff of the Economist in London from 1952 to 1956. He also has written essays and reviews for such publications as The New Yorker and the Times Literary Supplement. He was recently Lord Weidenfeld Visiting Professor of Comparative Literature at Oxford University, and he has a lifetime appointment as Extraordinary Fellow of Churchill College at Cambridge and has held the Chair in Comparative Literature at the University of Geneva.

In a distinguished career spanning nearly half a century, Steiner has published path-breaking essays and books that address some of the anomalies of contemporary Western culture. In The Death of Tragedy (1961), Language and Silence (1967) and Real Presences (1988), as well as his most recent book, Errata: An Examined Life (1998), he looks unswervingly at issues of language in a post-Holocaust age. "His European and Jewish heritage inform his powerful, sometimes bleak but never pessimistic perspective," the citation reads. "Perhaps his most distinguished achievement is that in the process of writing such criticism, he has re-cast the traditional role and identity of the critic itself. In his generous, fearless, challenging prose he has looked at the limits of language, as well as its powers and at the deceptions of the intellect as well as its discoveries. He is a fitting recipient."

Stanford English Professors Eavan Boland Casey, John Felstiner and Tobias Wolff served as judges for the award.

The award presentation will be made in the spring of 1999. The location and exact date are pending. SR