NEW YORK (AP) – Stephen King doesn’t have the literary reputation of Philip Roth or Arthur Miller, but now all three authors have something in common: an honorary National Book Award for lifetime achievement.

King, brand-name writer, master of the horror story and e-book pioneer from Maine, is receiving this year’s medal for Distinguished Contributions to American Letters. The prize, worth $10,000, was announced Monday by the National Book Foundation, a nonprofit organization that sponsors the awards.

“This is probably the most exciting thing to happen to me in my career as a writer since the sale of my first book in 1973,” King said in a statement issued by the foundation.

“I’ll return the cash award to the National Book Foundation for the support of their many educational and literary outreach programs for children and youth across the country; the Medal I will keep and treasure for the rest of my life.”

King, who turns 56 next Sunday, will be presented the award at the annual National Book Awards ceremony, on Nov. 19.

Among the world’s most famous authors, he has both enjoyed the benefits and endured the biases of being a “genre” writer. He is a beloved, even iconic storyteller among the general public, whom he has memorably terrified in “Carrie,” “The Shining” and other best sellers.

But he has never been a contender for any of the major literary prizes, including the National Book Award. His biggest honor before Monday was an O. Henry prize in 1996 for the short story “The Man in the Black Suit,” originally published in The New Yorker.

“I’m pleased that they’re giving it to him,” says Ray Bradbury, author of such science fiction classics as “The Martian Chronicles” and recipient in 2000 of the honorary medal from the book foundation. “I don’t think they should exclude any special genre, or they’d have to eliminate Edgar Allan Poe, wouldn’t they?”

King has written dozens of books and even defenders acknowledge that not all are worth reading. But they praise him as an exciting, essential writer with a deep feeling for the American psyche.

“I think he’s a force for good in the world,” says Michael Chabon, author of the Pulitzer Prize winning novel “The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay.”

“People like writers to stay in the boxes. The 20th century was supposedly about breaking down those barriers between high art and popular culture and yet it still feels like there’s some kind of transgression when Stephen King gets a National Book Award medal.”

Established in 1988, the honorary award cites not only literary merit, but “a lifetime of service.” The Maine-based writer has provided scholarships for the state’s high school students, and made numerous charitable contributions through a foundation he runs with his wife, Tabitha.

He was an early advocate of e-books, and caused a sensation in 2000 when his 66-page e-story, “Riding the Bullet,” received more than 400,000 orders in the first 24 hours after it was made available online.

He also shares one quality with many literary writers: a dislike of corporate-controlled publishing. In the current issue of Entertainment Weekly, for which he is a featured columnist, King celebrates a novel available only in audio form, Ron McLarty’s “The Memory of Running,” and attacks publishers for not signing it up.

“Publishing houses, once proudly independent, are today little more than corporate wampum heads, their cultural clout all but gone,” writes King, who is published by Simon & Schuster, a division of Viacom Inc.

McLarty has since received several offers and should have an agreement soon, said his agent, Jeff Kleinman.


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