This year is a good one for female writers; most of the major literature prizes have gone to women, though whether this is a fluke, a new trend of heightened equality, or a sign that "literary fiction itself is succumbing to entropy," as Erica Jong muses in her new piece for HuffPost. Just as a shallow film, Shakespeare in Love beat out the film with more staying power, Saving Private Ryan at the Oscars, great writers have been overlooked for prestigious prizes ever since the conception of these prizes. Not just women, either. Even Steve Leveen, a member of the board of directors for the National Book Awards, admitted the preposterous omissions over the years when trying to choose the best novel of the past 60 years.
It's great to recognize less popular literature, and there's nothing wrong with awards going to authors unheard of by the general public, but some of the omissions over the years are too crazy not to take note of. So, in the spirit of celebrating the overlooked greats and gawking over the most forgettable of the winners, we bring you some of the most questionable decisions in literature prizes:
The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald
Despite being required reading for practically every high school student in the country, The Great Gatsby never won a single literature prize. The winner of the Pulitzer in 1925, the year it was published was, instead, So Big by Edna Ferber, which is decidedly not the Great American Novel, though it may be a favorite of young girls.
Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov
Nabokov is widely regarded as one of the greatest writers of the 21st century, and Lolita is far and away his most well-respected novel. It was groundbreaking in terms of its intricate style, its fascinating and unreliable narrator, and its controversial subject matter, but it was shortlisted for the National Book Award in 1959, losing to The Magic Barrel by Bernard Malamud.
Faulkner never won a literature prize until 20 years or more after his greatest works of fiction were published. Overlooked for the Pulitzer time and again, Faulkner was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1949. He later won the Pulitzer twice for A Fable and The Reivers, both considered minor novels compared to earlier greats like As I Lay Dying and The Sound and the Fury.
Howl and Other Poems, Allen Ginsberg
"Howl" has gone down in history as one of the central works of the Beat Generation. It has become one of the most popular poems of its generation and beyond. And yet, "Howl" never won any literature awards, possibly because of its controversial language, which was originally considered obscene.
The Handmaid's Tale, Margaret Atwood
Though The Handmaid's Tale was awarded a couple of minor literature prizes, it was majorly overlooked when it came to the 1986 Booker Prize. Though nominated, this classic feminist dystopian novel lost to Kingsley Amis's The Old Devils. Does anyone remember that one?
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