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Literary Awards

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Literary Awards

You've probably heard of fancy awards such as the Pulitzer Prize and the Nobel Prize, but do you know what winning these awards actually entails? Of course, these prizes come with ceremonies, certificates, and money, but they also greatly influence who is remembered in literary history. Literary awards help financially support authors and create a library of texts seen to be exemplars of excellence in writing, forging unique achievements in literary history.

The Definition of Literary Awards

A literary award is a prize presented to an author in appreciation and recognition of a book or body of work. Literary awards are often associated with an organization that holds an awards ceremony to distribute the recognitions. Literary awards typically provide cash prizes, medals, and certificates to authors. They are normally sponsored by individuals, families, organizations, and publishing firms.

The History of Literary Awards

Literary awards began springing up in the early 20th century. They rapidly grew in popularity after the Nobel Prizes were first awarded in 1901. In 1895, Alfred Nobel established the idea for the Nobel Prize for Literature, among other subjects. Its intent was to determine and honor an author with exceptional quality in the work they produced throughout their lifetime.

Discussions began in the 19th and 20th centuries regarding distinguishing popular literature from quality literature. While many novels and stories sold well and appealed to the general public, this did not mean the writing had literary merit. Literary awards were devised for a wide variety of genres to promote and appreciate quality works and talented writers.

Today, literary awards provide a public platform for the appreciation of writers and their words. Literary prizes help authors gain recognition and provide them with financial support to continue their work. Literary prizes have become associated with a sense of exclusivity, excellence, and honor. They are often quite difficult to attain, providing goals for established and aspiring writers alike.

The Controversy of Literary Awards

Although many literary awards can help establish authors, some argue that literary awards create a sense of elitism, exclusivity, and control over the perceptions of literary merit.

To be nominated for many literary awards, an author must already have a certain level of fame or have their names circling around notable literary circles. Also, the selection panel for awards greatly determines whose work is deemed "outstanding" in the public eye. Organizations have been criticized for sexism and racism in their determination of winners.

Most Prestigious Literary Awards

There are hundreds of different literary awards, each with its own significance. However, certain awards have considerably more pull than others because of their longstanding and highly prestigious nature. These awards include the Nobel Prize in Literature, the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, the Booker Prize, the Neustadt International Prize For Literature, and The PEN America Literary Awards.

The Nobel Prize in Literature

The Nobel Prize in Literature is given to one author per year. This author can be from any country but must have produced outstanding work in the field of literature. The prize can be awarded for a particular piece of work or for the author's overall body of work. Each Nobel Prize in Literature winner receives a gold medal, a diploma, and about $1 million!

Literary Awards, Nobel Prize, StudySmarterFig. 1 - The Nobel Prize was created in 1901 by the famous Swedish scientist, inventor, and entrepreneur, Alfred Nobel.

Famous winners of the Nobel Prize in Literature include:

  • Bob Dylan (2016)
  • Seamus Heaney (1995)
  • Toni Morrison (1993)
  • Gabriel García Márquez (1982)
  • Ernest Hemingway (1954)
  • William Faulkner (1949)
  • George Bernard Shaw (1925)

Who was Alfred Nobel, and why did he establish the Nobel Prizes?

Alfred Nobel (1833‐1896) was a Swedish inventor, engineer, chemist, businessman, and philanthropist who also enjoyed writing poetry and drama. He held 355 patents during his life and is best known as the inventor of dynamite, among many other destructive inventions.

When one of Nobel's brothers died, the media mistook it for Alfred's death. Headlines and obituaries celebrated his death because of his contributions to warfare. Shocked by this legacy, Nobel set out to change it to one of peace.

Nobel outlined the establishment of the five Nobel Prizes—for physics, chemistry, physiology/medicine, literature, and peace—in his final will. The prizes are a reflection of his personal interests. He wanted them to be awarded to those who had created the largest benefit to humanity through their work in each field.

Alfred Nobel left the majority of his money, which would amount to about $265 million today, to fund the prizes. However, many conflicts arose among his family when his will was discovered. Thus, it took five years after his death for the first Nobel Prizes to be awarded in 1901.

The Pulitzer Prize

The Pulitzer Prize was created in 1917 by a wealthy newspaper publisher named Joseph Pulitzer. There are 22 Pulitzer Prizes distributed per year in different subjects among journalism and the arts. The Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, previously known as the Pulitzer Prize for the Novel, is awarded to an American author who published a recent fiction novel that represents American life. Award winners are given the Prize through Columbia University and receive a certificate and a $15,000 cash prize.

When the Pulitzer Prize for the Novel was changed to the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1948, short stories and novellas became eligible for the Prize in addition to novels. The Pulitzer Prize for Poetry was established in 1922.

Award winners of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction include:

  • Toni Morrison (1988) for Beloved (1987)
  • Alice Walker (1893) for The Color Purple (1982)
  • Harper Lee (1961) for To Kill a Mockingbird (1960)
  • William Faulkner (1955) for A Fable (1954)
  • Ernest Hemingway (1953) for The Old Man and the Sea (1953)
  • John Steinbeck (1940) for The Grapes of Wrath (1939)
  • Margaret Mitchell (1937) for Gone with the Wind (1936)

The National Book Awards

The National Book Award was established in 1950 to celebrate the best American literature. The National Book Award Foundation assembles 25 distinguished writers and members of the literary field to judge the awards. Categories for National Book Awards include Fiction, Nonfiction, Poetry, Translated Literature, and Young People's Literature. Winners receive $10,000 and a bronze sculpture.

Winners of the National Book Awards include:

  • Louis Sachar (1998) for Holes (1998)
  • Theodore Roethke (1965) for The Far Field (1964)
  • Flannery O'Connor (1972) for The Complete Stories (1971)
  • Joyce Carol Oates (1970) for Them (1970)

The Booker Prize

The Booker Prize, previously known as the Man Booker Prize, is a literary award for the best English novel of the year published in the United Kingdom or Ireland. The winner of the Booker Prize is selected by a panel and receives £50,000.

Recent award winners of the Booker Prize include:

  • Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart (2020)
  • The Testaments by Margaret Atwood (2019)
  • Life of Pi by Yann Martel (2002)

Note: the winning novel can be from any country, but it must be published in the U.K. or Ireland to qualify.

The Neustadt International Prize For Literature

The Neustadt International Prize for Literature was founded in 1969. It was created from an endowment from the America Neustadt family. The Neustadt International Prize for Literature awards $50,000, an eagle feather cast in silver, and a certificate to an author who has demonstrated excellence through written works of drama, poetry, or fiction.

Award winners of The Neustadt International Prize for Literature include:

The PEN America Literary Awards

The PEN America Literary Awards were founded in 1963. PEN America provides about $370,000 per year in awards, fellowships, grants, and prizes for writers and translators. PEN awards distribute over 20 awards spanning the genres of fiction, poetry, biography, drama, essay, and nonfiction writing.

Winners of the PEN America Literary Awards include:

  • The Manga Artist (2019) by Doug Henderson
  • Philip Roth (2006) for his body of work

Types of Literary Awards

There are numerous types of literary awards for different forms of writing, as well as for different genres, regions, cultures, and subject matter. There are also typically different literary awards for fiction vs. nonfiction works, such as literary criticism, politics, journalism, and historical writing.

There are literary awards specifically for women—most notably, the Women's Prize for Fiction. The Women's Prize for Fiction was established in 1992, awarding international women for best fiction writing. The selection panel for the prize is all female.

There are also genre-specific literary awards such as The Hugo Award, the highest award to science fiction writers.

Literary Awards, Hogwarts Japan, StudySmarterFig. 2 - J.K. Rowling won the 2001 Hugo Award for Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2000).

There are also regional types of literary awards. For example, the British Book Awards and the Costa Book Awards are for writers based in the U.K. and Ireland, while the National Book Award and the John Newbery Medal are specifically for American writers and literature.

List of Literary Awards

Below is an extended list of literary awards and a bit of information about them:

  • Bancroft Prize—Columbia University's award for books about American history or diplomacy
  • Bollinger Prize—Yale University award that honors an American poet
  • Guggenheim Fellowship—awards grants to creatives and scholars who have shown exceptional creative abilities
  • National Book Critics Circle Award—awards English books and reviews
  • Newbery Medal—awards an author for distinguished contribution to American children's literature
  • O. Henry Awards—awards the best English short stories published in the United States or Canada
  • Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize—awards a living U.S. poet with $100,000 for their lifetime accomplishments
  • Walter Scott Prize—a British literary award for historical fiction
  • Walt Whitman Award—poetry award presented by the Academy of American Poets

Literary Awards - Key takeaways

  • A literary award is a prize presented to an author in appreciation and recognition of a book or body of work.
  • Literary awards typically provide cash prizes, medals, and certificates to authors.
  • Literary awards became popular in the 20th century after the first Nobel Prizes were awarded in 1901.
  • Some of the most prestigious literary awards include the Nobel Prize in Literature, the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, the Booker Prize, the Neustadt International Prize For Literature, and The PEN America Literary Awards.
  • There are numerous types of literary awards for different forms of writing, as well as for different genres, regions, cultures, and subject matter.

Frequently Asked Questions about Literary Awards

Literature awards are prizes presented to an author in appreciation and recognition of a book or body of work.

The highest award for writers is the Nobel Prize in Literature.

The most important literature awards include the Nobel Prize in Literature, the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, the Booker Prize, the Neustadt International Prize For Literature, and The PEN America Literary Awards.

Some types of literature prizes include prizes for fiction, poetry, short stories, and drama. There are different types of literature prizes for different forms, genres, and regions.

Literary awards are good because they help financially support authors and create a library of texts seen to be exemplars of excellence in writing, forging unique achievements in literary history. 

Final Literary Awards Quiz

Question

What year was the Guggenheim Fellowship created?

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Answer

1925

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True or False: The Fellowship has sponsored over 18,000 fine artists, writers, scientists, and scholars.

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Answer

True

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What are Guggenheim Fellowships?

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Answer

The Guggenheim Fellowships are grants given to individuals who have demonstrated an exceptional ability to contribute to the arts and science.

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About how many Guggenheim Fellowships are given out per year?

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Answer

175

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Who created the Guggenheim Fellowship?

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Answer

Senator Simon Guggenheim and his wife, Olga Guggenheim

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Who was the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation created in memory of?

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Answer

Simon Guggenheim and Olga Guggenheim's son, John Simon, who died at 17

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True or False: John Simon Guggenheim was the founder of the Guggenheim Museum Foundation.

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Answer

False

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True or False: Since its establishment in 1925, the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation has provided nearly $400 million to creatives, scholars, and scientists.

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Answer

True

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True or False: Over 125 recipients of the Guggenheim fellows have gone on to become Nobel Prize winners.

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True

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Which of the following writers was not a recipient of the Guggenheim Fellowship? 

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Answer

Roald Dahl

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What is the most prestigious literary award?

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Answer

The Nobel Prize in Literature

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During which century did literary awards become popular?

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Answer

20th

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Which of the following do literary awards not typically give authors?

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Publishing contracts

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Who invented the Nobel Prize?

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Alfred Nobel

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True or False: Literary awards help distinguish popular fiction from quality fiction. 

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True

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Which literary award is given out for journalism as well as fiction?

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Answer

The Pulitzer Prize

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Question

The Hugo Award is a literary award for which genre of writers?

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Answer

Science fiction

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Which of the following literary awards is for children's literature?

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Answer

The John Newbery Medal

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True or False: There are numerous types of literary awards for different forms of writing, as well as for different genres, regions, cultures, and subject matter.

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True

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Which of the following literary awards is for writers published in the UK and Ireland?

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Answer

The Booker Prize

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What year was the Booker Prize established?

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Answer

1969

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How much is the prize for the best novel worth?

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Answer

50,000 pounds

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True or False: Shortlisted authors also receive a monetary prize. 

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True

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True or False: The Booker prize nominations must be published in the UK or Ireland. 

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True

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Which of the following names has the Booker Prize not been known by?

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Answer

The Man Booker Prize for Fiction

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Why is the Booker Prize important for authors?

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Answer

The Booker Prize is important for authors because the exposure they gain from the prize often significantly increases their book sales. The prize money also gives writers financial support to continue their artistic endeavors. 

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What was the intent of establishing the Booker Prize?

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To encourage interest and discussion of contemporary fiction and to make fiction an integral part of British culture.

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Which of the following novels did not win the Booker Prize?

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Never Let Me Go

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True of False: The Booker Prize is not a controversial award.

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False

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True or False: The International Booker Prize is written for books translated into English. 

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True

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Question

What is Granta?

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Granta is a literary magazine based in the United Kingdom.

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How often is Granta published?

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Quarterly/ four times a year

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True or False: Granta only publishes works of fiction. 

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False

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Which of the following works does Granta not publish?

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Scripts

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True or False: Each issue of Granta is based on a theme addressing a particular aspect of life or genre of writing from the perspective of several authors.

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True

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What year was Granta first established?

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1899

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What year was Granta revived to feature writings from the best author's around the world?

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1979

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What is Granta named after?

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The River Granta

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At what prestigious university was Granta founded?

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Cambridge University

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What is the name of the editor of Granta who reached out to many American authors for the first relaunch of the issue called New American Writing?

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Bill Buford

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What is the name of the publishing branch of Granta established in 1989?

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Granta Books

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True or False: Granta has published writings by 27 Nobel Prize for Literature winners.

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True

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Writers from which of the following countries have not been featured in Granta's 'Best of Young' series?

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France

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Who is credited with inventing the historical fiction novel? 

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Answer

Sir Walter Scott

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True or False: Historial fiction novels are purely based on true occurrences. 

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Answer

False

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What is the first prize award for the Walter Scott Prize?

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Answer

£25,000

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True or False: The Walter Scott Prize is eligible for novels published in the UK, Ireland, or the Commonwealth in the past year.

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True

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How long ago must stories take place in order to be eligible for the Walter Scott Prize?

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60 years

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What is the title of Sir Walter Scott's first historical fiction novel?

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Waverley

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True or False: The Walter Scott Prize was established in 2009 and the first prize was awarded in 2010.

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Answer

True

Show question

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