The National Book Awards
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The National Book Awards

The National Book AwardsThe National Book Awards are amongst America's most significant literary prizes, rivalling the Pulitzer Prizes for their impact. They have been running since 1950 and are open to American citizens for books published in the United States in the period between December of the previous year and the following November.

Currently, there are four categories: Fiction, Non-Fiction, Poetry and Young People's Literature, each of which carries a prize of $10,000. Shortlists are announced each October and winners in November.

There are five judges for each category, all of whom are authors who have been previously published in the category being judged. As with the Man Booker Prize, the panels can call in titles that they feel were important omissions from publishers' submissions. Unusually, the judges are left to decide the crtieria for awarding the prizes for themselves, with the administrators only ruling over matters of eligibility for submission.

The list of categories has changed repeatedly during the Awards' history: a total of 48 differently named prizes have been awarded at least once, with the 30th anniversary Awards in 1980 seeing a raft of prizes for categories such as Western, Autobiography and Current Affairs, as well as prizes split between hardback and paperback editions, most of which were never featured again.

Saul Bellow is the only three-time winner; Philip Roth and John Updike have both won the Fiction Award twice and Wallace Stevens took the Poetry Award in both 1951 and 1955. John Updike in 1982, Alice Walker in 1983 and Annie Proulx in 1994 are the only authors to win both the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize for the same work.

Walter Percy's surprise victory in 1962 for The Moviegoer was attended by the bizarre sight of his publisher, the legendary Alfred A Knopf, storming out in disgust at the decision: he was also the publisher of William Maxwell's The Château, which had seemed a more likely winner. (The judges also chose Percy's book over Joseph Heller's Catch-22 and J D Salinger's Franny and Zooey.)

Thomas Pynchon refused to acknowledge the Award in 1974, made jointly to Gravity's Rainbow and Isaac Bashevis Singer's A Crown of Feathers and Other Stories, authorising comic Professor Irwin Corey to collect it on behalf of 'Richard Python'. Corey's surreally comic speech was further enlivened by what remains the only known instance of a streaker at a literary awards ceremony; Corey ad-libbed that the nude man was presumably Alfred A Knopf. It is widely believed that these incidents, along with the novel's more controversial aspects, were behind the Pulitzer Prize Board's subsequent refusal that year to make any award despite the Fiction Committee's unanimous recommendation of Pynchon's book.

The furore that resulted from the decison to award the 1979 Fiction prize to Tim O'Brien's Going after Cacciato, over the hot favourite The World according to Garp by John Irving, resulted in the withdrawal of much funding from American publishers and the subsequent setting up of the rival PEN/Faulkner Award.

Two lifetime achievement awards, the Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters and the Literarian Award, are also made each year. The former has been won by such diverse names such as Ray Bradbury, Toni Morrison, Stephen King, Oprah Winfrey, Arthur Miller, Judy Blume, Gore Vidal and, in 2012, Elmore Leonard.

2012 Fiction Winner

2012 Non-Fiction Winner

2012 Poetry Winner

David Ferry
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2012 Young People's Winner


2011: Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward

2010: Lord of Misrule by Jaimy Gordon

2009: Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann

2008: Shadow Country by Peter Matthiessen

2007: Tree of Smoke by Denis Johnson

2006: The Echo Maker by Richard Powers

2005: Europe Central by William Vollmann (currently out of print)

2004: The News from Paraguay by Lily Tuck

2003: The Great Fire by Shirley Hazzard

2002: Three Junes by Julia Glass

2001: The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen

2000: In America by Susan Sontag

1999: Waiting by Ha Jin

1998: Charming Billy by Alice McDermott

1997: Cold Mounatin by Charles Frazier

1996: Ship Fever and Other Stories by Andrea Barrett

1995: Sabbath’s Theater by Philip Roth

1994: A Frolic of His Own by William Gaddis

1993: The Shipping News by Annie Proulx

1992: All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy

1991: Mating by Norman Rush

1990: Middle Passage by Charles Johnson (currently out of print)

1988: Spartina by John Casey (currently out of print)

1987: Paris Trout by Pete Dexter

1986: Paco’s Story by Larry Heinemann (currently out of print)

1985: World’s Fair by E L Doctorow (currently out of print)

1985: White Noise by Don DeLillo

1984: Victory over Japan: A Book of Stories by Ellen Gilchrist (currently out of print)

1983: The Color Purple by Alice Walker AND Collected Stories of Eudora Welty by Eudora Welty (currently out of print)

1982: Rabbit Is Rich by John Updike AND So Long, See You Tomorrow by William Maxwell

1981: Plains Song (currently out of print) by Wright Morris AND The Stories of John Cheever by John Cheever

1980: Sophie’s Choice by William Styron AND The World According to Garp by John Irving



2010: Lighthead by Terrance Hayes

2009: Transcendental Studies by Keith Waldrop

2008: Fire to Fire by Mark Doty

2007: Time and Materials by Robert Hass

2006: Splay Anthem by Natahaniel Mackay

2005: Migration by W S Merwin (No UK edition)

2004: Door in the Mountain by Jean Valentine

2003: The Singing by C K Williams (currently out of print)

2002: In the Next Galaxy by Ruth Stone (currently out of print)

2001: Poems Seven by Alan Dugan

2000: Blessing the Boats by Lucille Clifton (currently out of print)



2011: The Swerve: How the World Became Modern by Stephen Greenblatt

2010: Just Kids by Patti Smith

2009: The First Tycoon: The Epic Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt by T J Stiles

2008: The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family by Anette Gordon-Reed

2007: Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA by Tim Weiner

2006 The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the American Dust Bowl by Timothy Egan (no UK edition)

2005: The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion

2004: Arc of Justice: A Saga of Race, Civil Rights and Murder in the Jazz Age by Kevin Boyle (currently out of print)

2003: Waiting for Snow in Havana: Confessions of a Cuban Boy by Carlos Eire

2002: Master of the Senate: The Years of Lyndon Johnson by Robert Caro (currently out of print)

2001: The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression by Andrew Solomon

2000: In the Heart of the Sea: The Tregedy of the Whaleship Essex by Nathaniel Philbrick



2011: Head Off & Split by Nikky Finney

2010: Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine

2009: Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice by Phillip Hoose

2008: What I Saw and How I Lied by Judy Blundell

2007: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

2006: The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Volume 1 by M T Anderson

2005: The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits and a Very Interesting Boy by Jeanne Birdsall (no UK edition)

2004: Godless by Pete Hautman (no UK edition)

2003: The Canning Season by Polly Horvath (currently out of print)

2002: The House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer

2001: True Believer by Virginia Euwer Wolff

2000: Homeless Bird by Gloria Whelan

A full list of previous winners and categories can be found at the official website

© W&G Foyle Ltd