National Book Award Winners in the MLC


William Gaddis’ NBA medal for A Frolic of His Own, which won the fiction award in 1994

National Book Award Winners and Finalists

in the Modern Literature Collection


November 15th marks the announcement of the National Book Award, an honor which numerous Modern Literature authors have either won or been nominated for. Among MLC recipients and nominees are May Swenson (A Cage of Spines, 1959, and To Mix With Time, 1964), Robert Creeley (For Love, 1963), James Dickey (Buckdancer’s Choice, 1966), Mona Van Duyn (To See, To Take, 1971), James Merrill (Nights and Days, 1976), William Gaddis (JR, 1976, and A Frolic of His Own, 1994), and Howard Nemerov (The Collected Poems of Howard Nemerov, 1978).


Fact sheet for the 1959 National Book Awards ceremony featuring May Swenson’s nomination for the National Book Award for Poetry for A Cage of Spines

May Swenson‘s first nominated collection–A Cage of Spines-received advance praise from Elizabeth Bishop, who wrote, “Miss Swenson looks and sees and rejoices in what she sees. Her poems are varied, energetic, and full of directness and optimism that are unusual in these days of formulated despair and/or stylishness.”


Setting Copy of For Love by Robert Creeley

“Love, what do I think/to say. I cannot say it.”, Robert Creeley declares in the title poem of his nominated collection For Love. He leaves this imagination of “love” to his reader, whom–in the words of his preface–may well “know more” of his poems than he does.


From Buckdancer’s Choice by James Dickey

James Dickey’s 1967-winning poetry collection Buckdancer’s Choice examines the experience of pain from the colossal scope of a WWII firebombing to the more intimate death of a narrator’s mother who–dying of emphysema–whistles a tune in an adjacent room: “The invalid warbler’s note”.


Setting copy of To See, To Take by Mona Van Duyn


From Mona Van Duyn’s 1971 National Book Award in Poetry acceptance speech for her book, To See, To Take

Mona Van Duyn’s 1971 National Book Award Acceptance Speech focused around the role of the caring reader in cultivating “a form of love” through their close readership. Both “reading” and “love” are central to Van Duyn’s collection, To See, To Take.


From table of contents of Nights and Days by James Merrill


From table of contents of Nights and Days by James Merrill

James Merrill’s drafts of his 1976 NBA winning poetry collection Nights and Days reveals his characteristic playfulness and attentiveness to detail, filled with sketches and multitudes of subtly changing lists, in many different shades of ink.


William Gaddis’s acceptance speech for the National Book Award in Fiction for JR

William Gaddis’s novel JR also won the NBA for fiction in 1976. Much like Van Duyn, his acceptance speech highlights the importance of reading well in order to write well: “…it seems to me the only way to keep writers writing well, or trying to write well, is to read what we write.”


1978 National Book Award in Poetry citation for The Collected Poems of Howard Nemerov by Howard Nemerov


1978 National Book Award in Poetry citation for The Collected Poems of Howard Nemerov by Howard Nemerov

Howard Nemerov’s 1978 NBA winning poetry collection The Collected Poems of Howard Nemerov, speaks through many voices, from a wide terrain of experiences. In the words of NBA judges, “That craft has deployed itself in an extraordinary range of accomplishments: from the gnomic to the dramatic, from the bleak to the triumphant, from the pure to the being at home in the multiple modern muck of the modern world–a poetry of the whole man.”


For more information on award-winning authors of the Modern Literature Collection, visit our digital archive at

About the author

Meghan Lamb currently lives with her husband in St. Louis, where she is a fiction MFA candidate with the Washington University Writing Program and a Graduate Assistant with the Modern Literature Collection. She is the author of Silk Flowers (Birds of Lace) and Sacramento (Solar Luxuriance).