In the 1990s Philip Roth won America’s four major literary awards in succession: the National Book Critics Circle Award for Patrimony (1991), the PEN/Faulkner Award for Operation Shylock (1993), the National Book Award for Sabbath’s Theater (1995), and the Pulitzer Prize in fiction for American Pastoral (1997). He won the Ambassador Book Award of the English-Speaking Union for I Married a Communist (1998); in the same year he received the National Medal of Arts at the White House. Previously he won the National Book Critics Circle Award for The Counterlife (1986) and the National Book Award for his first book, Goodbye, Columbus (1959). In 2000 he published The Human Stain, concluding a trilogy that depicts the ideological ethos of postwar America. For The Human Stain Roth received his second PEN/Faulkner Award as well as Britain’s W. H. Smith Award for the Best Book of the Year. In 2001 he received the highest award of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Gold Medal in Fiction, given every six years “for the entire work of the recipient.” In 2005 The Plot Against America received the Society of American Historians Award for “the outstanding historical novel on an American theme for 2003–2004.” In 2007 Roth received the PEN/Faulkner Award for Everyman.
John Updike was the author of more than sixty books, eight of them collections of poetry. His novels, including The Centaur, Rabbit Is Rich,and Rabbit at Rest, won the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, the National Book Critics Circle Award, and the William Dean Howells Medal of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He died in January 2009.
Robert Caro was born in New York in 1935, and attended Horace Mann and Princeton University. After college, Caro worked for a local New Jersey newspaper and then at Newsday where he spent six years as an investigative reporter writing articles on politicians.
At Newsday, Caro’s interest in politics grew. He wrote a series of articles about the urban planner Robert Moses’s plans to build a bridge. A great number of politicians agreed with Caro’s articles that the bridge was not practical, but Moses, who had never been elected to a political office, convinced the New York state legislature to vote in favor of the bridge. In Caro’s quest to understand that not all political power comes from the ballot box, he applied and got a Nieman Fellowship at Harvard to study urban planning, which is where he conceived the idea to write a book examining where Moses got his power and how he used it to shape New York. It took several years for Caro to write what would become a thirteen-hundred page book, and to make ends meet, Caro’s wife, Ina, sold their house on Long Island and they moved into an apartment.
The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York was published in 1975, won the 1975 Pulitzer Prize for Biography, and was a 1975 National Book Award Finalist for Contemporary Thought/Nonfiction. Both TIME magazine and Modern Library selected The Power Broker as one of the greatest nonfiction books of the twentieth century. Known and praised for his meticulous research, Caro also recognized that rhythm, mood, and sense of place are all essential elements if readers are to emotionally connect to the characters.
Caro’s mastery in storytelling based on his in-depth research led to the publication of four of the five planned volumes on the 36th President of the United States in a biography series called The Years of Lyndon Johnson. The first volume, The Path to Power, published in 1982, won the 1982 National Book Critics Circle Award in General Nonfiction, and covered LBJ’s life until 1941.
To gain an understanding of where Johnson grew up, Caro and his wife moved to Hill Country in central Texas and lived there for three years. Means of Ascent, published in 1990, won the 1990 National Book Critics Circle Award in Biography, and covers Johnson from 1941 until the Texas senatorial primary. The third volume, Master of the Senate, published in 2002, won the 2003 Pulitzer Prize for Biography or Autobiography, the 2002 National Book Award for Nonfiction, the 2002 Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Biography, and the 2002 D. B. Hardeman Prize, and covers Johnson’s twelve years, from 1949 to 1960, in the United States Senate. The fourth volume, The Passage of Power, published in 2012, was a National Book Award Finalist for Nonfiction, and won the 2013 National Book Critics Circle Award in Biography. The Passage of Power covers Johnson’s life from 1958 to 1964, a time that included the challenges Johnson faced as he attempted to gain the presidency. It was also the first time people were able to catch a glimpse of the Kennedy assassination through Johnson’s eyes. Caro is working on the fifth volume that will cover Johnson’s presidential years.
Caro currently lives in New York City with his wife, Ina, who is also a writer.
Widely read, widely anthologized, widely interviewed, and widely taught, Adrienne Rich (1929–2012) was for decades among the most influential writers of the feminist movement and one of the best-known American public intellectuals. She wrote two dozen volumes of poetry and more than a half-dozen of prose. Her constellation of honors includes a National Book Award for poetry for Tonight, No Poetry Will Serve, a MacArthur Foundation “genius” grant in 1994, and a National Book Award for poetry in 1974 for Diving Into the Wreck. That volume, published in 1973, is considered her masterwork. Ms. Rich’s other volumes of poetry include The Dream of a Common Language, A Wild Patience Has Taken Me This Far, An Atlas of the Difficult World, The School Among the Ruins, and Telephone Ringing in the Labyrinth. Her prose includes the essay collections On Lies, Secrets, and Silence; Blood, Bread, and Poetry; an influential essay, “Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence,” and the nonfiction book Of Woman Born, which examines the institution of motherhood as a socio-historic construct. In 2006, Rich was awarded the Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters by the National Book Foundation. In 2010, she was honored with The Griffin Trust for Excellence in Poetry’s Lifetime Recognition Award.
Gore Vidal was the author of twenty-three novels, five plays, two memoirs, numerous screenplays and short stories, and well over two hundred essays. His United States: Essays, 1952–1992 received the National Book Award.