This Year’s Loser is….Fiction!
Much has been made in the last few days, perhaps rightfully so, of the fact that the Pulitzer Committee chose to award no prize in the Fiction category this year. It’s not that 2012 was an abysmal year for fiction–on the contrary, there have been many outstanding books published this year. In fact, three finalists in the category were chosen: David Foster Wallace’s posthumous The Pale King, Karen Russell’s Swamplandia!, and Denis Johnson’s Train Dreams.
While it’s nearly impossible to untangle the intentions behind this very secretive process, we can only assume that either the judges felt none of these works were worthy of the much coveted Pulitzer Prize, or that they were ALL worthy of the Prize, and a winner could not be determined. Maybe we’ll never know. What we do know is that the publishing world is up in arms–unsurprisingly. The Pulitzer’s are like our Oscars–we speculate about the nominees, take bets on who the winner will be, wonder which designer the winner will wear on the red carpet. Ok, so maybe it’s not that much like the Oscars….but it’s important. The winner of Pulitzer prize not only receives the prize money, but the prestige and sales and reputation that go along with it. It would have been a huge deal for a first time novelist like Karen Russell to win the prize, especially for her delightfully strange prose (I haven’t read Swamplandia! yet, but I loved her story collection St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves).
So what does it mean that there was no fiction prize this year? Maybe it means a more even distribution of book sales. Or maybe it means, as Ann Patchett fears, that the American reading public will keep reading stuff like Fifty Shades of Grey and the latest memoir by a reality tv star, and not seek anything better. On the other hand, do we need prizes or labels to tell us what to read? Who says the elitist Pulitzer committee knows better than I do what I should read?
I, personally, am disappointed that there was no winner this year, and even though I know it’s happened in the past, I still feel that it’s coming at a momentous time in publishing, and there should be more thought when it comes to the state of literature, and literary fiction in particular. What do you think?