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This Year’s Loser is….Fiction!

2012 April 18

  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?

8 Responses Post a comment
  1. April 18, 2012

    Oh goodness, Fifty Shades of Grey was too much. How this stuff becomes popular is beyond me…

  2. April 18, 2012

    The Pulitzer is usually hit or miss for me–I’m much more of a National Book Award groupie–but this still upsets me. If nothing else, I think it’s a huge slap in the face to the authors who published last year. Now they can’t just say that they are glad that one of their peers won, but they have to accept the fact that none of them were deemed worthy.

    In related news, everything about Fifty Shades of Gray makes me want to die a little.

  3. April 18, 2012

    From the articles I’ve read based on this year’s non-winner, I have questions about the selection process anyway. Not that there should have to be a winner every year, but it doesn’t sound like the process is designed for people who really know and care about fiction to award a worthy book/author.

  4. Raquel permalink
    April 18, 2012

    The Pulitzer rules state that if they can’t reach a clear consensus for a winner, no prize is awarded. So they were only following their own rules. They admitted that they could not choose one book that was a clear winner. It’s happened in the past, but they do admit that it is rare.

    I can respect that they were following their rules: if they didn’t think anyone deserved the prize, they were within their rights to withhold it. I might be an anomaly, but I don’t care much about book awards and I didn’t get ruffled or incensed about the Pulitzer decision this year. Giving a prize for something in the arts, which is so subjective and difficult to judge, seems like a crap shoot to me. There have been plenty of books that have won awards like Pulitzers in the past that I disliked and others that I thought were marvelous that were undecorated. One gal’s throwaway is another gal’s masterpiece.

    Interestingly, in 1941, the Pulitzer president refused to give Hemingway the prize for “For Whom The Bell Tolls,” even though the committee selected it as the winner, because he said it was profane and offensive. I think that’s pretty bad ass. As a writer, I’d be prouder of a book that was deemed too extreme to win a prize. That’s just me though!

    • Raquel permalink
      April 19, 2012

      PS: I had heard of this Fifty Shades of Grey nonsense before but didn’t read the book description until today. OMFG. And the worst part is that it is the first in a SERIES! The horror, the horror!

  5. April 19, 2012

    While I don’t pay that much attention to which books have won awards, I often find those that do rather lacking and some that don’t are completely worthy, but I do think it is a shame to not have a winner. It seems a cop out to say they couldn’t choose a winner, if the selection was terrible then this may be a fair point but is the: ‘they are all winners’ a little bit primary school?

    Anyway I would have liked to see Karen Russell win, Swamplandia! is on my to read list as I thought St Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves was amazing!

  6. April 19, 2012

    In the vein of one of the other comments, I’m more of a Booker Prize girl myself. (Guess it’s the Anglophile in me!) And I’m much more disappointed by the popularity of Fifty Shades of Grey than by the Pulitzer controversy. I recently read an article about it that said it was originally written by the author as Twilight fan fiction (?!) and featured some horrendously written excerpts that just confirmed every bad impression I already had of it.

    • Raquel permalink
      April 19, 2012

      Twilight fan fiction?!? My soul just died a little.

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