Mark McGurl’s The Program Era (Harvard University Press) has won the $30,000 Truman Capote Award for Literary Criticism. The award was announced yesterday by the University of Iowa Writers Workshop, which administers the prize.
McGurl, a professor of English at the University of California at Los Angeles, argues in his book that “the rise of the creative-writing program stands as the most important event in postwar American literature.” In the Iowa announcement, McGurl said he was “delighted by the irony that it is made in the name of a wonderful writer, Truman Capote, who contradicts most of the generalizations about postwar American fiction made in my book.” He added, “I’m proud to think that I have helped move the conversation about creative writing and the university forward a few steps, and shed new light on recent literary history, but humbled by this reminder that contemporary literature is a much larger and richer enterprise than any one book or critic could grasp.”
The Chronicle profiled McGurl and his book in 2009 (“An Era of Détente for Creative-Writing Programs”):
The Program Era explores the rise of what McGurl calls “systemic creativity.” It’s the convergence of many factors, including progressive education; the postwar/cold war emphasis on creativity and R&D in institutional contexts, especially the university; the rise of consumer culture; and what McGurl calls “reflexive modernity,” the self-attuned (some would say narcissistic) condition that’s become the default way of being in contemporary America. “It’s true we live in a culture of narcissism, as Christopher Lasch calls it,” he says. “Self-monitoring is part of modernity. It’s part of what human beings in modern societies do.”
Established by the late author’s will, the Capote Award is “the largest annual cash prize in English-language literary criticism,” the statement said, and reflects its namesake’s “frequently expressed concern for the health of literary criticism in the English language.” A panel of prominent critics, including Michael Wood, Elaine Scarry, and Elaine Showalter, picked McGurl’s book as the latest winner.—Jennifer Howard