1959 -- The Magic Barrel

On his way home from receiving the 1958 NBA for his first novel, The Wapshot Chronicle, John Cheever ran into Bernard Malamud on a subway platform (a suitable venue for the “Chekhov of the suburbs,” as John Leonard describes Cheever). If Cheever felt a little sheepish that he, a short story specialist, had won the award over Malamud’s The Assistant, he might have had a chuckle the following year when Malamud won his first NBA for his Magic Barrel short stories.

In her 2006 memoir, My Father is a Book, Janna Malamud Smith describes a modest, hard-working, self-effacing man. Malamud biographer Philip Davis says that at the award ceremony Malamud refused to pose for the cameras holding up his book, forgot his $1000 check on the podium, and arrived late to the dinner in his honor, whereupon he was told by the waiter that there were no more places at the table. Davis also quotes this description by Richard Stern of Malamud as he appeared at the time:

A finicky, sharp, funny, roughly frank, partly innocent, crazily meticulous fellow, who carried lists of chores and checked them off as he did them. …He’d been living in Oregon for a few years, teaching at Oregon State. There they gave medals each year to faculty members who had done the most for the University and mankind. The year Malamud won the Book Award, he’d gotten the bronze prize. The gold had gone to the inventor of a better breast-cup for cows. The silver had gone to a Professor of Logging.

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