The Contenders: 61 Years of National Book Award Fiction Finalists
Tuesday, May 1, 2012 at 11:50AM
National Book Foundation

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

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