On this day, Alice McDermott beats out front-runner Tom Wolfe for the National Book Award with her novel Charming Billy, losing a bet with her children.
McDermott felt she was so unlikely to win the award that she told her three children she’d give them whatever they wanted if she won: She ended up owing them a portable TV, an inflatable armchair, and a ski trip.
McDermott grew up on Long Island, which became the setting for much of her writing. She attended the State University of New York at Oswego, then worked in publishing for a year, hoping to rid herself of the writing bug. Failing that, she went to graduate school at the University of New Hampshire and soon began publishing short stories in women’s magazines. Her first novel, A Bigamist’s Daughter, came out in 1982. Her second, That Night (1987), was nominated for the National Book Award and the Pulitzer.
McDermott and her husband, a neuroscientist, had three children and lived in San Diego and Pittsburgh before settling in Bethesda. She taught at Johns Hopkins University while continuing to write novels, including Child of My Heart (2002) and After This (2006).