Wednesday, April 18, 2012

No Pulitzer This Year

On Monday, it was announced that the Pulitzer Prize board had withheld its fiction award for 2012. Speculation ran rampant as to why this occured for the first time in 35 years. For more, we go to the WSJ, who clarifies:
"In an interview with the Daily Beast, Maureen Corrigan, one of the three judges for the Pulitzer prize in fiction, clarifies that it wasn’t the judges, but the larger Pulitzer board that decided not to award a prize this year:
“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,” Corrigan said. “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!”
“Honestly, I feel angry on behalf of three great American novels,” added Corrigan, a critic for NPR who also teaches at Georgetown University. According to the Pulitzer’s ground rules, the choice of the judges (or an alternative selection) must be approved by a majority of the board. Evidently that didn’t happen this year."
I am surprised that the larger board didn't feel that any of the three novels - Denis Johnson's Train Dreams, Karen Russell's Swamplandia! and David Foster Wallace's unfinished The Pale Kingwere worth promoting. I think one needs to consider the make up of the board: only one novelist - Junot Diaz - is on the board, and the rest are made up of journalists, reviewers, and academics. Are they really the best judge of the best literature in the land? Personally, I haven't put a lot of faith in the fiction Pulitzer Prize since I learned that in 1974 the board rejected Gravity's Rainbow, the unanimous consensus of the jury. They refused to give an award that year. From the 5/8/74 NYT:

"...members of the 14-member board, which makes recommendations on the 18 Pulitzer Prize categories ... had described the Pynchon novel during their private debate as "unreadable," "turgid," "overwritten," and in parts "obscene." One member editor said he had tried hard but had only gotten a third of the way through the 760-page book."

If the board reacts this way to one of the best books of the 20th century, god knows what their reaction is to the best of contemporary literature. If they don't like the three finalists, that means I should pick up my copies today!

1 comment:

  1. Train Dreams is a fine novella. But it was previously published in 2002.

    The Pale King was far from finished, and anyway, DFW has been dead since 2008.

    And, Swamplandia!? Really?

    2011 sucked for fiction. I'm with the board. American writers need to step up their game.