The Contenders: 61 Years of National Book Award Fiction Finalists
An Online Exhibition
Since the Award’s inception in 1950, a total of 80 books have won the National Book Award for Fiction. These range from the well known and well loved―Saul Bellow’s Herzog and Flannery O’Connor’s Complete Stories―to the lesser known―Walter Wangerin, Jr.’s The Book of the Dun Cow―and out of print―John O’Hara’s Ten North Frederick. But regardless of their present status, each of these books will forever be a National Book Award Winner, the best of the best American fiction that year.
But what about the books and authors that didn’t win, the hundreds of Fiction Finalists that only came close? You might guess that these are even less familiar than the unfamiliar Winners, but the list delivers many surprises. Hemingway, Nabokov, Vonnegut, Morrison, Paley―all were nominated, some more than once, but none ever won the National Book Award. The long list of Fiction Finalists offers other surprises, too. Did you know that Edwin O’Connor, a Finalist in 1957 for The Last Hurrah, coined the term “last hurrah”? Or that Lucille Kallen, nominated in 1980 for Introducing C.B. Greenfield, was the only woman on the team of comedy writers for Sid Caesar's ''Your Show of Shows,'' which was broadcast live on Saturday nights from 1950 to 1954?
We encourage you to get to know these 373 NBA-nominated works of fiction and their authors, and we invite you to share your comments at the bottom of each exhibition page. Also, since information on some of the Finalists is scarce, we welcome any additional materials (biographical information, photos, speeches, etc.) that you might be able to contribute to the exhibition. Please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Special thanks to 5 Under 35 honorees Kirstin Allio, Matthew Eck, Amity Gaige, Asali Solomon, Josh Weil, Tiphanie Yanique, and Charles Yu for providing wonderful appreciations of the following Finalist books:
- 1953: The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway (Josh Weil)
- 1956: A Good Man Is Hard to Find by Flannery O’Connor (Kirstin Allio and Matthew Eck)
- 1956: The Bride of the Innisfallen and Other Stories by Eudora Welty (Kirstin Allio)
- 1958: Pnin by Vladimir Nabokov (Amity Gaige)
- 1959: Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov (Matthew Eck)
- 1961: Rabbit, Run by John Updike (Amity Gaige)
- 1962: Catch-22 by Joseph Heller (Matthew Eck)
- 1970: Going Places by Leonard Michaels (Matthew Eck)
- 1970: Slaughterhouse-Five, or The Children’s Crusade by Kurt Vonnegut (Charles Yu)
- 1972: The Pagan Rabbi and Other Stories by Cynthia Ozick (Kirstin Allio)
- 1975: Guilty Pleasures by Donald Barthelme (Charles Yu)
- 1975: Sula by Toni Morrison (Asali Solomon and Tiphanie Yanique)
- 1975: Enormous Changes at the Last Minute by Grace Paley (Kirstin Allio)
- 1976: Tyrants Destroyed and Other Stories by Vladimir Nabokov (Kirstin Allio)
- 1980: Collected Stories by Paul Bowles (Amity Gaige)
- 1987: The Counterlife by Philip Roth (Charles Yu)
- 1988: Libra by Don DeLillo (Charles Yu)
- 1992: Bastard Out of Carolina by Dorothy Allison (Tiphanie Yanique)
- 1992: Dreaming in Cuban by Cristina García (Tiphanie Yanique)
- 1993: Operation Wandering Soul by Richard Powers (Charles Yu)
- 1994: The Collected Stories by Grace Paley (Matthew Eck)
- 2000: The Feast of Love by Charles Baxter (Tiphanie Yanique)
- 2004: Florida by Christine Schutt (Josh Weil)
- 2007: Like You’d Understand, Anyway by Jim Shepard (Josh Weil)
Please note: National Book Award Fiction Winners are not included in this exhibition. If you’d like to learn more about the Winners, please visit our NBA Fiction Blog.
Development of this online exhibition was supported by a generous grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.