On Thursday, April 25, the Library of Congress announced the creation of the Prize for American Fiction, as well as its first recipient, novelist Don DeLillo. This new lifetime achievement award in literature replaces one first given to Herman Wouk in 2008, then subsequently given as the Library of Congress Creative Achievement Award for fiction to John Grisham, Isabel Allende, Toni Morrison, and Philip Roth. In its press release, the Library of Congress said that the new Prize for American Fiction seeks to honor “strong, unique, enduring voices that—throughout long, consistently accomplished careers—have told us something about the American experience.”
In a 1988 review of DeLillo’s Kennedy assassination novel, Libra, which appeared in the New York Review of Books, Robert Towers called DeLillo “chief shaman of the paranoid school of American fiction,” and the term has stuck. DeLillo said in his 1993 interview with the Paris Review, “I’m not particularly paranoid myself. I’ve drawn this element out of the air around me, and it was a stronger force in the sixties and seventies than it is now. The important thing about the paranoia in my characters is that it operates as a form of religious awe. It’s something old, a leftover from some forgotten part of the soul.”
The relatively reclusive DeLillo, who regularly declines requests to appear or speak in public, will accept the award at the 13th annual National Book Festival in Washington, DC, an event that last year drew over 200,000 visitors.