Tuesday, April 17, 2012

No Pulitzer Prize For Fiction

For only the 11th time in the near 100 year history of the Pulitzer Prize awards, no award was given to a writer of novelized fiction.

Finalists were announced, but alas, the jury could not select a winner among them.

This is the first time in 35 years a Pulitzer Prize board of judges has been unable to name a winner in fiction. The news was greeted with shock by authors and publishers alike, as everyone struggled to understand why.

The three finalists were as follows
: Karen Russell, “Swamplandia!” published by Knopf; David Foster Wallace, “The Pale King,” unfinished at the time of the author’s death but later finished by his editor; and Denis Johnson, “Train Dreams,” originally published as a novella in The Paris Review in 2002 and later published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux.

It does seem a little strange that among the finalists only one was a full and complete novel. Of course this would have seemed on the surface to make the board's job a little easier. Or, perhaps it was simply a matter of the board finding all the books lacking in one degree or another and therefore unworthy of a prize.

The fact is, for authors, the Pulitzer Prize is a great way to boost book sales, increase name recognition and generate (sometimes) much needed revenue. Unfortunately, the Pulitzer Prize committee is an independent group and subject only to their own whims. That means we will likely never know why no fiction award was given.

What we do know, however, is that awards really don't matter. Nobody sets out to win a Pulitzer Prize (except The Onion.) We write books, or articles; poems, short stories, prose; whatever, because we are driven to it by matters of the heart. Our goal is not to be lauded by people we only know by name, but to release our anguish, calm our souls and sooth the savage heartbeat of our inner demon.

Would it have been nice for one of the finalists to have won a Pulitzer Prize? Of course. Was it necessary to the process of writing; their ultimate goal when they started writing the book? Unlikely.

It is disappointing there was no Pulitzer Prize awarded for fiction this year, but since it's their award they can give it to whom they wish (or not give it at all.) There is no point denouncing the group which has done so much to support writers for the past century, nor to wail at the sky that this marks the end of publishing as we know it. Instead, sit down at your desk, grab your pen or your keyboard, and write it down. Perhaps your woeful attitude toward the lack of a Pulitzer Prize for fiction this year will lead you to a real Pulitzer Prize next year.

Or, maybe it will just make you feel better. Either way, you win.

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