Life is more mystery than misery

(or at least, that's what I like to think)

Pulitzer fiction non-award 2012

Last Monday the Pulitzer prizes were announced, but the news weren’t much the winners as the news that there was no winner in the fiction category. For the first time since 1977, the board either wasn’t able to choose or didn’t want to one of the three perfectly competent finalists and their novels:  David Foster Wallace‘s The Pale King, Karen Russell‘s Swamplandia and Denis Johnson‘s novella Train Dreams. Pulitzer Prize administrator Sig Gissler, said none of the works received a majority from the panel, thus after lengthy consideration, no prize was awarded.

This decision has caused a quick response from authors, writers and the literary world in general, mostly complaining about the lack of explanation about the decision-making progress and the fact that this lacking explanation may induce general public to think that the finalist’s works weren’t worthy of the prize. When asked about it, Gissler added: “There were multiple factors involved in these decisions, and we don’t discuss in detail why a prize is given or not given.”

I personally think that the worst thing about it is the attitude of Gissler’s answer. The Pulitzer is a big prize, maybe not so economically ( 10.000 dollars) but as a platform for the winner, as Paul Bogaards, – director of publicity at Alfred A Knopf, Swamplandia’s publisher -, expressed:”It’s the most significant award in American letters and it’s a shame the jury couldn’t find a work of fiction this year. The Pulitzer makes sales. It’s a prize that can change the career trajectory of a writer.”

Not only that but it is probably the most prestigious US fiction award prize, a prize that can boost sales and attract readers, and act as a celebration of literature, which is needed now more than ever from my point of view. As I see it, you celebrate a writing contest, then you make the effort to find a winner, no matter how long the board has to deliberate, because it is their job.

That’s the reason the three jurors ( Corrigan, Larson, and Cunningham), who read over 300 novels to select the finalists got annoyed when they realized that all their hard work had come to naught. Even worse, the null-decision gave the impression that they must have believed no fiction book was worthy of the prize this year. Larson, interviewed on NPR’s Morning Edition, stated that the jury was “shocked, angry, and very disappointed that the Pulitzer board did not select a winner.” In the interview, Larson said  that the board’s deliberations “are confidential and they don’t give us feedback. The hope now is that people will now read three books instead of one.”

On the other hand, Corrigan, who had never thought about wanting the rules changed until now, explained:  “I can safely say that anger and surprise/shock, and just sort of feeling this is an inexplicable decision on the part of the board—that really characterizes, I think, the way all three of us feel. ….. The obvious answer is to let the [jury] pick. We’re the people who have gone through the 300 novels. All the board is asked to do is to read three top novels that we’ve given to them…In fact, what’s happened today is a lot of the articles and blog posts have gotten it wrong—they’ve been blaming the three of us!”.

So, let’s hope their voice is heard and changes about the decision-making progress are made. Until then, let’s hope too that the polemic
rises the interest about it instead of diminishing the status of one ( if not the one) of the biggest US literary awards nowadays.


One comment on “Pulitzer fiction non-award 2012

  1. Cassie
    April 18, 2012

    I think that these books will still sell (just as much possibly) because they weren’t chosen. Instead of having one book sell big because it has a gold sticker on the cover, all three will be read because it’s such a controversy.

    I appreciate these judges for not choosing a book, for whatever reasons they choose. If there isn’t a book, there isn’t a book – I don’t think the decision-making process needs to be changed, that would be disappointing to tradition and history.

    However, I really appreciate everything you shared here and all the quotes, and people you found articles for. Thank you for that.

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