CP: Two of your novels, Frog and Interstate, got nominated for National Book Awards. You’ve written about the experience of being considered but getting turned down at the end.
SD: Yeah, in 1991, when I was nominated for Frog, two of the five judges came to me and told me that they wanted me. Two wanted the other guy. The fifth, a woman, wasn’t sure who she wanted, but the other two were obviously more convincing. Then I was nominated in 1995 for Interstate, and the same thing happened. I got turned down.
CP: Getting nominated is great, but winning that would have changed your life.
SD: Well, the truth is, I wish it had happened, but I’m glad it didn’t happen. First of all, I got a story, “The Victor,” out of it. In my story, the winner of the book award stops writing and goes on the speech circuit. The guy who won the first award, in 1991, was Norm Rush—he’s a very slow writer, very turgid. And Philip Roth, who I’ve never liked since Goodbye Columbus, was the guy I was up against in 1995. But [Roth] is a monument. I remember when I was nominated in 1995, a good friend of ours, Irving Howe’s wife, Ilana Howe, told me, “You’re up against Philip Roth, you lost.”
CP: And if you beat him, you’ll probably find yourself in one of his books.
SD: Yeah. He has too many friends and he’s too powerful. But sure, it would change your life. First of all, you’ll probably be a million dollars richer. Then the next book, the advance you get … you know, I get nothing for my advances. If I get $2,000 for a book, that’s a lot of money. But if you get the National Book Award, and you win it, you get a couple hundred thousand dollars easily—and it gets translated in different languages. You’re on easy street. Maybe that’s not so good. Yeah, it would have been nice. I would have been a lot more comfortable. But it would have also meant a lot of attention would have been directed my way, which I don’t like. I sort of like to live in solitude. I call it living in the basement.