For the first time in 35 years, the Columbia School of Journalism failed–and we do mean “failed”–to award a Pulitzer Prize for fiction.
Nothing good enough? Oh, come on.
This is a debacle that gives awards a bad name. The $10,000 Pulitzer Prize, though not the most innovative of awards, is a big career boost for fiction writers. And although it usually goes to good books, the winners tend to be safe. I mean, who can argue with the deservingness of Philip Roth, Michael Chabon, or Jeffrey Eugenides? (The National Book Award and the PEN/Faulkner Award seem to go for a wider spectrum.)
Do you ever wonder how a board of journalists is qualified to judge the arts?
Because of the scandal of not picking a prize for fiction, we have learned for the first time about the judging process. The board delegates the labor of selecting finalists to “jurors.” In this case, the three fiction jurors were hardly strangers to excellence: chairwoman Susan Larson, former book editor of New Orleans’ Times-Picayune and host of NPR show The Reading Life; book critic and author Maureen Corrigan; and Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Michael Cunningham.
And the finalists were not at all controversial: National Book Award winner Denis Johnson’s novella Train Dreams; the late David Foster Wallace’s posthumously published The Pale King; and Karen Russell’s much-heralded first novel Swamplandia!
The board picks the prize from the jurors’ three finalists.
Good God, what did the Pulitzer board want?
Okay, don’t give it to the dead guy. The much-revered Wallace doesn’t need the $10,000.
But Johnson and Russell could probably use it.
And the failure to give the award is a loss to publishers, who sell books that win prizes; not to mention to those of us who consider fiction an art.
Something happened. But what? Below are eight desperately-seeking-a-plot lines for the thriller we’ll never bother to write, to be called The Pulitzer Prize Fiasco.
Scenario # 1: the board only likes Y.A. dystopian fiction.
Scenario # 2: the board blackballs polysyllabic writers and/or writers who wear do-rags.
Scenario # 3: the board lost its bifocals.
Scenario # 4: the board transferred the $10,000 to a joint account in the Cayman islands.
Scenario # 5: the board now considers only e-books self-published by their relatives.
Scenario # 6: the board blackballed the jurors because David Foster Wallace’s 560-page book was too long for them.
Scenario # 7: the board prefers nonfiction, and at least poetry and plays are short! (even though they don’t understand them).
Scenario # 8: Denis, David, and Karen just aren’t/weren’t cute enough.
Shame on the Pulitzer Prize board. I can’t imagine what they were thinking, and why someone didn’t stop them.