Critically Acclaimed Authors Who Never Win Prizes


This week marks the release of Anita Desai’s newest book, The Artist of Disappearance , a set of three beautiful novellas revolving around the shifting tides of Indian culture in past and present. We love Desai’s work, and we know critics love her too — but we noticed that, somehow, she is continually overlooked when it comes to major prizes. Always the bridesmaid and never the bride, as it were, she has been shortlisted three times for the Booker Prize without yet snapping up a win. Perplexed, we decided to take a look at other authors who have been robbed of prizes that we (and often, hordes of fans) think should be rightfully theirs. Click through to read our list of critically acclaimed authors who never win prizes — or never win that one particular prize — and let us know who else you think has been totally shafted in the comments.

Anita Desai

The wonderful Anita Desai is one of the few writers to have been shortlisted for the Booker Prize three times without ever actually winning it. From what we can see, frequent shortlisters usually end up with the prize at some point, but in our opinion, Desai has been robbed up until this point, and we’re anxiously for her much-deserved Booker waiting. Here’s hoping that The Artist Of Disappearance is our winner!

Vladimir Nabokov

Though he is widely considered one of the greatest authors in recent history, and even has his own prize, the PEN/Nabokov Award, our favorite butterfly-collecting synesthete has been nominated for the National Book Award a rather astounding seven times without ever bringing home a win. Similarly, he has been nominated for a much-deserved Nobel Prize in literature several times, but was ever passed over. In 1974, Nabokov (and Graham Greene and Saul Bellow) were snubbed in favor of a joint Nobel awarded to Eyvind Johnson and Harry E. Martinson, both Swedish Nobel Prize judges.

Kurt Vonnegut

Though Vonnegut, one of the most celebrated authors of our time, has won a few minor awards (and an Emmy), he has never won a major American literary award. Indeed, though Slaughterhouse Five was nominated for both a best-novel Nebula Award and for a best-novel Hugo Award in 1970, it lost both to Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness . The novel was also a National Book Award finalist, the only time Vonnegut made that list.

Philip Roth

Though no one could make the case that Philip Roth is lacking in the overall prize department — he has taken home almost every prize out there — he is very widely considered to have been criminally overlooked for one particular prize, his universal renown only making the snub that much more conspicuous. Yes, we’re talking about the Nobel. As The Guardian writes, “Forget LA Confidential losing the Best Picture Oscar to Titanic, and Englebert Humperdinck stopping Penny Lane from getting to number one: the worst cultural snub in living memory is that Philip Roth hasn’t won the Nobel prize for literature.” Indeed, it seems like every single year everyone clamors for Roth to win the prize, but — so far — to no avail. We (and everyone else in the book world) call foul, Swedish Academy!

Jorge Luis Borges

Like Nabokov, the Argentine writer was nominated multiple times for the Nobel Prize without ever winning the thing. Fans and critics decried the omission, and Borges himself was a little put out. “Not granting me the Nobel Prize has become a Scandinavian tradition,” he famously commented, “since I was born they have not been granting it to me.” Many have speculated that the snub was on account of his conservative political views, or perhaps more particularly that he had accepted an honor from Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet.

Donald Barthelme

One of our all-time favorite writers, and one whose playful post-modern style was influential to all who came after him, we were astounded to learn how few awards the man has garnered. In fact, in 1982, he was nominated for National Book Critics Circle Award, the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction, and Los Angeles Times Book Prize, all for Sixty Stories , with nary a win. He was also nominated for a National Book Award in 1975, but walked away from that prize empty-handed as well. For shame!

Martin Amis

Despite his critical acclaim and popular appeal, Amis has never won a major literary prize — and it seems as though every time he’s left out, somebody has something to say about it. Amis isn’t too bothered about it, though, because as far as he’s concerned, only boring novels win prizes. As he one said, “There was a great fashion in the last century, and it’s still with us, of the unenjoyable novel… and these are the novels which win prizes, because the committee thinks, ‘Well it’s not at all enjoyable, and it isn’t funny, therefore it must be very serious.'”

David Mitchell

Of Mitchell’s five novels, two have been longlisted for the Booker Prize, and one — Cloud Atlas , soon to become a star-studded film — shortlisted, but brutally robbed. Cloud Atlas was also shortlisted for the Nebula Award and the Arthur C. Clarke Award, but Mitchell lost out there as well. Regardless, Mitchell’s novels turn up relentlessly on every critics best-of-the-year lists, and tend to top people’s lists of personal favorites as well, so we’re thinking it’s only a matter of time on this one.