The novel for which I’m best known, Ishmael, began its public life in a competition. In competition for the half-million dollar Turner Tomorrow Award, some 2200 novels were entered from around the world, to be judged by a distinguished panel including names like Nobel-prize winner Nadine Gordimer, Ray Bradbury, William Styron, and others, who (I was told) identified mine as the winner very early on.
By the contest terms, the winner was guaranteed publication—but not, of course, success. In fact, it was rumored that, after the book’s rather tepid initial acceptance by the public, it would be allowed to go out of print without ever appearing in paperback. It did, however, appear in paperback and went on to earn one of publishing’s strangest histories. Without ever having popped up on the New York Times best-seller list, even for a day, Ishmael has sold more than a million and a half copies in more than 25 languages and is used in colleges and universities all over North America in courses as varied as philosophy, geography, history, religion, biology, archeology, zoology, ecology, anthropology, political science, economics, and sociology.
Among my favorite lost quotes (Google finds no trace of it and it appears in none of my many volumes of quotes from writers and others) is this one:
“Literature is not a horse race.”