1950 National Book Award - Nelson Algren's The Man with the Golden Arm
BY Nelson Algren
Nelson Algren's The Man with the Golden Arm won the first National Book Award ("NBA") in 1950. Hemingway, who regarded Algren as one of the two best American authors of his days, the other being Faulkner, provided a blurb for the book: "this is a man writing and you should not read if you cannot take a punch... Mr. Algren can hit with both hands and move around and he will kill you if you are not awfully careful... Mr. Algren, boy, are you good." Hemingway seemed suitably impressed with the book, but the publisher wasn't impressed by the quotation and it was not used for the book promotion.
By Algren's own admission, Golden Arm was the only book he wrote that sold. But that was no matter because the then-booming publishing industry was flush with cash, and he was paid $60 per week for two years to write a war novel that ended up as the Golden Arm. The book was published in 1949 to fortuitous timing as the "book industry announced... plans for honoring annually the most distinguished volumes of fiction... produced by Americans..." (see New York Times archives below). As it turned out, the Golden Arm would be the inaugural NBA fiction winner, confirming Algren's "particular talent in bringing new dimensions of irony and compassion to realistic fiction." In truth, had it not been this award, Algren would have been totally forgotten in the literary waste land. That's not a normative judgment on the merits of his work. Rather, it is a positivist observation on the current state of being: Algren's works are neither read, assigned, or researched in any meaningful measure today, and his legacy distilled into a succinct footnote of NBA history.
Based on Bruccoli's Nelson Algren: Descriptive Bibliography, the true first edition is 219mm in length and has 39 lines per page. The first printing has two known printing errors: page 121, line 32: "that that (repeated)", and page 180, line 11: "we (should have been "be"). The title on the book spine is in both red and black, and the book has top grey stain. "First Edition" is indicated at the end of the copyright page.The definitive first edition points are the length of the book and the "First Edition" on the copyright page. 2nd printings are shorter (214mm?) and does not have the "First Edition" mark, but have otherwise identical top stain and colored letterings for the title on the spine. There's also later book club edition with the same shorter length, unstained top edge, single-colored title letterings on the spine and, of course, no "First Edition" mark on the copyright page.
The first state dust jacket should show "Price, $3.00 on the top right corner of the front flap. The back of the dust jacket should have three reviews from Chicago Sun, Malcolm Cowley, and Chicago Tribune. Of the first printings, there are unspecific number of publisher-issued signed first edition with unprinted leaf signed "Nelson Algren" tipped in at the beginning of the first signature. This is one such copy.
January 22, 1950, Page 68, The New York Times Archives
March 18, 1950, Page 12, The New York Times Archives