The Pulitzer Prize gave out its awards Monday, awarding organizations like Huffington Post for quality journalism. It’s fun stuff. (Call us when they put a Best College Blog award in there.) But something was missing. Nobody is happy over the Pulitzer Prize’s pretty lame decision to withhold this year’s Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. This isn’t the first time it’s happened—the board has chosen ten times to not give out the award—but it’s the first time since 1977, when A River Runs Through It was recommended but rejected.
The New York Times published a strong op-ed Tuesday by Ann Patchett, a novelist who also owns a bookstore in Nashville (and who published a book this year, but anyway). For her, Pulitzer’s shrug was an insult to both readers and the industry. She argues the award abandoned its role as a badly-needed hypemonger for starving writers and flailing businesses. McNally Jackson is also pretty irate. Basically, the impression the decision gave is that the Pulitzer Prize read all the books in the country last year, thought about it, and just said, “eh.” Better luck next year?
So we’re conflicted.
On the one hand, it’s a total cop-out to announce a tie — or worse, claim that no books were good enough in 2011. On the other hand, the finalists for the award were David Foster Wallace’s unfinished The Pale King (which would have turned the Pulitzer into a Heath Ledger-type, posthumous sorry-we-ignored-you-when-you-were-alive-award), Karen Russell’s Southern Gothic debut Swamplandia, and the now-twice-snubbed Denis Johnson’s Train Dreams, which was originally published in 2002. We’re not saying any of these are poor choices – in fact, we agree with the op-ed that Train Dreams is utterly brilliant – but if the board had to choose between an unfinished novel, a debut, and a republished novella, we get why it might withhold the award.
And let’s face it—the Pulitzer Prize isn’t the final say in fiction. For every great contemporary masterpiece awarded, there’s a book that came out three years ago that nobody really remembers. Lots of fantastic books don’t win the Pulitzer Prize, and do pretty damn well for themselves.
Still, though. Patchett has a point when she says that “The Pulitzer Prize is our best chance as writers and readers and booksellers to celebrate fiction. This was the year we all lost.” You don’t excite anyone about anything by announcing a tie.