I sometimes wonder if the most prestigious literary awards can sometimes have a lottery effect, you know where there are a few really big winners and many, many countless losers? I suppose that the lottery effect also includes the impulse for non-winners to keep continuously playing because, so the thinking goes, somebody has to win, right?
A little while back, I noted 20 years worth of award-winning African American poets. We have paid close attention to those who won awards, but what about the many who lost? And by those who lost, I don't simply mean those who were nominated and became finalists. No, I mean those who published works and were excluded well before the final rounds or those who did not even earn the right of publication.
Although I received no monetary compensation, I did have this rewarding feeling when Nikky Finney won the National Book Award for Poetry. I had been writing about her book for months before it was nominated, and when it won, I somehow felt that my admiration for her book was somehow validated. Was that it? Was that one source of the good feeling I had?
But what if Finney had not won? What might have happened to her wonderful acceptance speech? How many near-winner poets wrote wonderful Finney-like acceptance speeches that never saw the light of day?