Author rises from sick-bed to ridicule 'high-brow' critics

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The Independent Culture

Stephen King, the author of bestselling horror stories such as Carrie and The Shining, wants people to know that it's all right to be reading his books. He may not be quite on the level of literary greats such as Charles Dickens, but his work is still a decent read. And if someone wants to give him a gong, that's fine too.

Recognition is hardly something that King, 55, who lives in Maine, might normally worry about. There are 300 million copies of his books in print in several languages. His stories have been made into movies. And he has become fabulously rich.

But his success has not earned him respect from the so-called elite of his trade. He found that out a few weeks ago when he learned he was to receive a lifetime achievement prize at America's annual National Book Awards dinner, which happened in New York on Wednesday. The literary critic Harold Bloom and others took exception to King being put in the same class as past winners of the award, such as Philip Roth, Toni Morrison and Arthur Miller. Mr Bloom referred to it as "idiocy" and called King "an immensely inadequate writer".

King attended the red-carpet and televised event at the Marriot Marquis in Times Square against his doctors' orders. Doctors had told him that the best place for him to be this week was in hospital after he awakened on Monday with pneumonia. But King was not about to miss the opportunity to make a point.

He bought three tables with twelve places each for his family and friends, costing him $1,200 (£704).

He appealed to publishers to "build bridges between the so-called popular fiction and the so-called literary fiction." And he said he had no patience with "those who make a point of pride in saying they have never read anything by John Grisham, Tom Clancy, Mary Higgins Clark or any other popular writer.

"What do you think? You get social-academic brownie points for deliberately staying out of touch with your own culture?" Mr King asked the audience.

King said of Mr Bloom: "The way he feels isn't necessarily the way everyone feels. There are a lot of people who looked at this and decided that this would be a good award to give, and that's good enough for me."

The award is usually awarded to an American author "who has enriched the literary landscape through a lifetime of service or body of work".

King was looking frail from his illness. Three years ago he was hit by a car on road near his home. His injuries weakened his lungs, making him susceptible to pneumonia.

King said his achievements have also pained him. "It's hurtful, it's infuriating and it's demeaning," he said.

Not everyone at the awards dinner seemed to be listening. Shirley Hazzard, the winner of this year's Fiction Prize for her book The Great Fire, was one person who would not drop her opposition to King's award, although she had not ready any of his books. She said: "I just haven't had time to get around to one." She said she prefers Shakespeare and Joseph Conrad. The number of books sold has no correlation with literary worth, she said.

While the National Book Awards may have redeemed itself to King, he did not let the institution off the hook. He said that in previous years he and some of his popular colleagues were not invited. King and John Grisham, author of bestselling courtroom novels, resorted to buying tickets to attend, "because that was the only way we were going to get in the door".

But a few authors spoke up for King. Among them was the mystery writer Walter Mosely