Monday, November 05, 2012

Was the National Book Award in 1962 Rigged?

That's the question posed by Slate.

From the piece...

I talked to some of the players in that surprising decision, hoping to find out how The Moviegoer was crowned and whether it is true, as alleged, the novel won thanks only to shady backroom politicking. Percy’s victory set off a controversy that involved the most powerful man in publishing, a famous journalist eager to take credit for the award, and a cub reporter who would go on to become one of the most celebrated writers of our time.

Catch-22 was considered the favorite, and yet Percy’s greatest opposition, ironically, came not from Heller or any of the other nominees but his own publisher, Alfred A. Knopf. When the charismatic, mercurial founder of the house that bears his name learned it was Percy the judged had tabbed, he exclaimed, “They’re running the prize into the ground!” Knopf, who had been in the business since 1915, was known for his acuity and taste, for taking a chance on authors other publishers were loath to sign but later wished they had. He had failed, though, to recognize Percy’s talent, and had recently fired Stanley Kauffmann, the editor who acquired The Moviegoer and worked with Percy through four rewrites. In the days before the winner was announced Knopf endorsed another one of his books, The Ch√Ęteau by William Maxwell, and knew it reflected poorly on him to be seen missing the mark so widely.

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