Orange Alert

SU English professor wins prestigious Shattuck Prize in criticism

Arts critic David Yaffe considered 'College success story'

April 16, 2012, by Rob Enslin

David Yaffe
David Yaffe
David Yaffe, a nationally renowned arts critic and assistant professor of English in Syracuse University’s College of Arts and Sciences, has been awarded the prestigious Roger Shattuck Prize in Criticism. Named for the late American critic and scholar who authored several books, including a seminal work on early French modernism, the Shattuck Prize is awarded annually to two emerging critics who have already established themselves with a substantial body of work. Yaffe—along with The New Republic’s Ruth Franklin—will be honored at a special ceremony in New York in May, sponsored by The Center for Fiction.

“David Yaffe is one of The College’s great success stories,” says Arts and Sciences Dean George M. Langford. “His receipt of the Shattuck Prize is emblematic of our commitment to cutting-edge scholarship. As a writer, David’s manner is rich and imaginative, and never fails to engage with the reader.”

A member of the English faculty since 2005, Yaffe has also taught in the Goldring Arts Journalism Program in SU’s Newhouse School for Public Communications. His teaching and research encompass contemporary American fiction and poetry, music criticism, creative non-fiction, the biography and autobiography, the book review, and the essay.
Yaffe's writing in "Like a Complete Unknown" has been described as "prose poetry."
Yaffe's writing in "Like a Complete Unknown" has been described as "prose poetry."

Yaffe is the author of "Bob Dylan: Like a Complete Unknown" (Yale University Press, 2011), which has elicited praise from The New York Times Book Review, The Wall Street Journal, and Kirkus Reviews. He is also the author of "Fascinating Rhythm: Reading Jazz in American Writing" (Princeton University Press, 2006), which has been lauded by The Times Literary Supplement and other publications, and was nominated for an award by The American Musicological Society. (Yale literary critic Harold Bloom calls the book a “marvelously evocative celebration.”) Yaffe is currently working on “Reckless Daughter: A Portrait of Joni Mitchell” (Farrar, Straus, & Giroux). He is a music critic for The Nation, and has written articles for the Harper's Magazine, The New York Times, Bookforum, New York Magazine, Slate, The New Republic, The Village Voice, and other publications.

“David Yaffe is to Bob Dylan what Andrew Delbanco is to Herman Melville and what Farah Jasmine Griffin is to Billie Holiday—a writer whose authority is so vast and whose thinking is so fresh that he makes reading about his long-familiar subject an act of discovery,” writes David Hajdu, music critic for The New Republic and a professor at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.

Adds Princeton historian Sean Wilentz: “[Yaffe’s writing is] steeped but not drowned in cultural studies...[and] offers fresh and sometimes prickly insight.”

The Shattuck Prize is devoted to the support and encouragement of emerging critics. After receiving nominations from critics across the United States, a panel of professionals at The Center for Fiction in New York selects two finalists. This year's panel consisted of Adam Gopnik, Rosanna Warren, Eleanor Cook, William Carter, and Jed Perl.

Shattuck wrote such landmark books as “The Banquet Years: The Origins of the Avant-Garde in France” (Random House, 1968), “Forbidden Knowledge: From Prometheus to Pornography” (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1997), and “Proust’s Way: A Field Guide to ‘In Search of Lost Time’” (W.W. Norton & Company, 2001). Shattuck was professor emeritus in the University Professors Program at Boston University, until his death in 2005.

Much of Shattuck's personal library and papers are housed at The Center for Fiction, the only non-profit in the United States solely dedicated to celebrating fiction. In addition to providing education and public programming, the center operates one of the few independent fiction book shops in the country. The center occupies an important place in New York City history, building on its renowned circulating library collection that was established in 1820, before the advent of the public library system.

Housed in The College, the English department is home to a variety of graduate and undergraduate degree programs, including the highly ranked M.F.A. Program in Creative Writing. Areas of scholarship and teaching include American and British literatures and cultures, critical theory, gender studies, cultural studies, and film and screen studies. More information is available at

Media Contact

Rob Enslin