The last novelist to appear on the cover of Time, (In fact, the only author in the 21st century) was Jonathan Franzen when his dazzling novel, Freedom was released. The novelist before him, the last of the 20th century was Stephen King in 1999.
King is considered to be in the category of novelists known as genre writers, the "Master of Horror." He has published over 50 books, won many awards in genre categories, and was even recognized in 2003 by the National Book Foundation for his contribution to American letters with a lifetime achievement award.
Even with all of his awards, his storied history, and dozens upon dozens of bestsellers, Stephen King, in my opinion, is underrated. Naturally, a writer with the volume of work that King has is destined to be passed over for major literary awards because "truly" great writers that win prestigious awards such as The National Book Award and The Pulitzer Prize publish fairly irregularly. King, on the other hand, has consistently published one or two books a year for more than 40 years. Sure, some of his books are less than stellar, and some of them were better when adapted, but there is one novel in particular that King published, multiple times, that should go down as a 20th century classic, not only in the minds of readers, but book critics alike.
In 1978, The Stand was published for the first time. The Stories of John Cheever deservedly won the Pulitzer in 1979. It was also nominated for the National Book Award in '79, with the award going to Tim O'Brien's, Going After Cacciato. The other nominees included John Irving's wonderful The World According to Garp, Diane Johnson's Lying Low, and David Plante's The Family. The last two are most likely head-scratchers to most readers, even voracious readers. The Stand was not even nominated.
After King's popularity and sales increased, the complete and uncut version of The Stand was published in 1990. In 1991, The Pulitzer went to Rabbit at Rest by John Updike, with the other nominees including Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried (The clear cut winner in my honest opinion) and another relatively unknown book, Mean Spirit by Linda Hogan. The National Book award went to Mating by Norman Rush, with four other nominees from the authors: Louis Begley, Stephen Dixon, Stanley Elkin, and Sandra Scofield.
In 1991, The Stand should have been considered for the Pulitzer and the National Book Award. The complete version is over 1,000 pages, and is the only book besides David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest that warrants that length and does not have any needless information.
I'm not saying that Stephen King should have won the Pulitzer or the National Book Award, but he most certainly should have been nominated for at least one of the two in 1991. After all, David Foster Wallace himself, stated that The Stand was among his all time favorite novels, and the late Wallace is considered by many literary critics to be the greatest writer of his generation.
Perhaps Stephen King has missed out on awards due to his volume of work, or because of the fact that he focuses on story over style. The Stand is without a doubt one of the greatest stories ever told. He may be considered the greatest genre writer alive, and his books are likely to be read for hundreds of years, most likely surpassing some of the nominees for both awards in 1991.
There are literature professors and book critics out there that cringe at his name, but the fact of the matter is that Stephen King is one of the greatest living writers. If you have any reservations about his knowledge of craft or his process, go ahead and read his memoir On Writing, an indispensable guide for any aspiring writer and also a book that should have been considered for more prestigious literary awards.
My reading habits primarily are of the "literary" nature, but Stephen King's knowledge of literature, his grasp of storytelling, and the art that he creates are worth taking a stand for, because without Stephen King, the book industry would be vastly different today.