Emily Temple compiled a “Ranking by the Most Absurd Metric” that she says was limited because she “couldn’t track every single prize available to writers” and therefore “stuck to the biggest and most prestigious prizes in fiction.”
The “absurd” part of this metric comes from trying to define what’s major. Isn’t the O. Henry Award pretty major? Or the Rea Award for the Short Story? Or the PEN/Malamud Award? Updike won several major short story prizes. Then too, while Temple lists the MacArthur Genius Grant, she doesn’t list the Guggenheim, which, though not as much money, still seems pretty major. Updike received one to help him finish Rabbit, Run. The American Academy of Arts and Letters Gold Medal is listed for Updike, but not the two medals he received from two different presidents in White House ceremonies: The National Medal of Arts and the National Humanities Medal.
Nonetheless, Temple’s metric puts Philip Roth on top with nine prizes, with John Updike at eight, with Updike’s prizes listed as:
National Book Award for The Centaur (1964); National Book Critics Circle Award for Rabbit Is Rich (1981); Pulitzer Prize for Rabbit Is Rich (1982); National Book Award for Rabbit Is Rich (1982); National Book Critics Circle Award for Rabbit at Rest (1990);
Rounding out Temple’s list, E.L. Doctorow and Colson Whitehead have seven major awards; Saul Bellow, Lois McMaster Bujold, William Faulkner, Ursula K. Le Guin, and Marilynne Robinson have six; Jim Crace, Joe Haldeman, Edward P. Jones, and Connie Willis have five; and Orson Scott Card, John Cheever, Arthur C. Clarke, Junot Diaz, Jennifer Egan, Louise Erdrich, Ben Fountain, Robert A. Heinlein, N.K. Jemisin, Ha Jin, Bernard Malamud, Hilary Mantel, Cormac McCarthy, Ian McEwan, China Miéville, Viet Thanh Nguyen, E. Annie Proulx, Kim Stanley Robinson, and John Edgar Wideman have four prizes.
Fans of genre fiction may wonder why only sci-fi/fantasy awards are “major,” and that’s a legitimate question to ask. Meanwhile, Hemingway aficionados will cry, “Where’s Ernest???” But the fact is, many of these prizes were created after he had already killed himself. And for that matter, where’s fellow Nobel laureate Toni Morrison? Are all “major” prizes equal? Maybe that’s the most absurd assumption underlying this metric.