Monday, April 16, 2012

The 2012 Pulitzer Prize

Congratulations...Jennifer Egan? She is still the current Pulitzer winner, it seems. I have been eagerly awaiting the announcement of the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for months (and rooting for Ben Lerner's amazing debut, Leaving the Atocha Station, to win.) When the winners were announced, however, the Pulitzer Board declined to award the Prize for Fiction, but they did name three finalists (typically there are one winner and two finalists.)

I jokingly said on Twitter, "Are they saying it's a three-way tie or that they all suck?" The more I think about it, though, the more I do want to know. Are these three finalists all equally deserving? Are none of them deserving? Was it a hung jury? Is one (or maybe two) of these titles so egregious someone wouldn't budge to ensure there was a winner? As KatieANYC rightly pointed out on Twitter, "By not awarding the fiction prize, the #Pulitzer committee has guaranteed that the absence of one award will overshadow those they granted." Instead of celebrating the excellent contributions to journalism and the arts, we're talking about the perceived shortcomings of all American fiction writers.

I got to thinking--is not awarding a prize good for American fiction? I refuse to believe there are not worthy titles. In fact, I believe that there are far more than three titles worthy of the Pulitzer. I prefer the approach the Man Asian Prize took this year: increasing the number of novels on its shortlist because there were that many who deserved it. Regardless of why the Pulitzer board declined to give an award, today no longer feels like a celebration of American literature, and that makes me sad. Here are the three finalists:


Finalists:



Train Dreams by Denis Johnson(Kindle version)
Swamplandia! by Karen Russell (Kindle version)
The Pale King by David Foster Wallace (Kindle version)

I read Swamplandia!, Karen Russell's debut novel, the day it came out. I've been meaning to read Denis Johnson's novella Train Dreams since it came out, and I've had it checked out of the library since Christmas. I hope to sneak it in this week--it is only 128 page, after all. I have no real interest in The Pale King because I haven't read any other David Foster Wallace (for shame, I know) and would only want to read an unfinished novel by a writer I already adored.

Now tell me: what do you think about not having a winner? Will you be reading the finalists?


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26 comments:

  1. That is just bizarre that they didn't pick a winner!

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    1. Bizarre indeed--I thought it was a joke at first!

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  2. I think they need to award the prize!! I think it feels incomplete to stop short and not decide on a winner. If they need more time, fine but finish the job. Also, this will mess up my newly conceived idea for me to read all the recent Pulitzer Prize winners. If they don't award one, I'll just go with Swamplania.

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    1. I agree--make it like presidential elections where majority does not mean 50%, it just means more than the others. Now what would Zinn say about that comparison?

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  3. Yes, to everything you've said. I'm baffled -- and the lack of statement about their decision is so odd. I saw on BookRiot that it wasn't uncommon for them to do so but these days, *not* awarding something is just boggling.

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    1. I find their lack of transparency troubling. I wish they could have come to an agreement for the sake of literature.

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  4. That's so weird! I would hope they'd at least give an explanation!!

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    1. Me too! I think the public has a right to know.

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  5. This baffles me. (And I admit, you were one of the first people I thought of, as I was wondering what your take on this might be.) I'll probably blog about this more tomorrow, but it just seems to be such an insult to the authors who were nominated. I feel so bad for them. It's just so bizarre.

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    1. Thanks, Melissa! It is weird. I'm still reacting and thinking of it a day later, and I imagine I'll continue to for sometime.

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  6. I'm sad. I love Pulitzers.

    I actually preordered The Pale King, but it still sits on my shelf unread. I started it and never got back to it. And I've had Swamplandia (unread)on my nook pretty much since it came out. I really do need to get to both of those.

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    1. I love the Pulitzers too! I already dislike that the announcement of winners and finalist comes on the same day. I wish we had a longlist and shortlist period like the British prizes to foster community reading and discussion.

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  7. I'd love to be a fly on the wall during the discussions! I do find it all a bit odd - even the three books they've chosen don't seem to be a good reprensentation of the best fiction out there. We'll have to leave it to bloggers to unearth the best fiction of the year.

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    1. Jackie--So would I! I concur the three finalists are an odd combination too. I'm curious if the three judges each just picked one or if they all agreed on all three. Regardless, the two different judging panels does present some problems as we've seen.

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  8. I don't know enough about how it all works but if there were books good enough to be finalists, then there should be a winner among them, no??

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    1. You would think! The Pulitzers operate a bit oddly: three judges read the 300+ submissions (somehow) and present three to the Pulitzer board, which decides the winner. Or in this case, deems none of the three good enough (or optimistically all equally amazing...) It's just such a let down. Thank goodness the Orange shortlist came twelve hours later to lift my spirits!

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  9. I think all this nonsense of not awarding a prize really reflects badly on the committee, and it is an insult to the authors that were chosen as finalists. I really dislike this, and it makes me angry. I can imagine that it makes the authors angry too!

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    1. The whole thing seems like an embarrassment for all involved. With the nonsense of Shine in the National Book Awards finalists, the Pulitzers might have made them not so bad anymore!

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  10. I was really bummed. I think a lot of people use award lists to discovering new books and I think it's not possible that there wasn't a single book that could have been a worthy winner.

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    1. I agree. I've discovered some great reads with the Pulitzers. Perhaps people will explore the three finalists this year and have our own decision!

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  11. To jump in on the discussion, I've heard that a version of Johnson's novel had been published a few years ago in Europe, and that Wallace's editor made changes to the manuscript after the author's death. These issues concerned the final committee and caused confusion. If this is true, it puts a different slant on the outcome. Maybe the rules need to be fine tuned.

    Any thoughts about the Orange shortlist?

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    1. Johnson's novella was published in essentially the same form in The Paris Review in 2002. I agree with the committee's confusion, but I still wish they'd picked a winner.

      As for the Orange shortlist--I think it's phenomenal! I've read four of the six and liked them all. I'm eager to see who will win!

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  12. I agree, I would love some clarification on why there was no winner! I hadn't realized that was even an option.

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    1. I wish it weren't an option. At the very least, I wish they could have returned the entries to the panel of three or asked for alternates, but give us a winner!

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  13. Sucks. Sucks sucks. I said as much on Facebook. I especially liked Ann Patchett's NYTimes article that essentially said "this sucks!" but much more eloquently.

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    1. I loved Patchett's article too (not surprisingly!) I hope next year is better:-)

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Thank you for taking the time to comment. Happy reading!