After the successful campaign by a group of black writers to secure the 1987 Pulitzer Prize for fiction for Toni Morrison’s novel Beloved, it should not have come as any surprise that the National Book Awards would be made the target of a similar political takeover. Indeed, given the momentum that such affirmative-action campaigns have lately achieved in virtually every sphere of American cultural life, the wonder is that it has taken as long as it has for the National Book Awards to be added to the roster of prizes and preferments that have now been so completely politicized that they have been rendered meaningless, even as pro forma guides to literary quality. With the awarding of the 1990 National Book Award for fiction to Charles Johnson, the black author of a novel called The Middle Passage, this prestigious literary prize has gone the way of the Pulitzer and so many others.

W ...