This year, nobody was good enough.
The Pulitzer Prize for Fiction is one of the most prestigious awards in American literature. Previous fiction winners have included Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner, Jennifer Egan and Philip Roth. Publishers submit works according to published guidelines; winners for the literary categories must be U.S. citizens, except for the History category, where the subject of the book must be U.S. History.
The jurors for this year’s Fiction prize were Susan Larson, the former book editor of The Times-Picayune, Maureen Corrigan, book critic for Fresh Air on NPR, and the novelist Michael Cunningham. They submitted three unranked finalists to the Board: David Foster Wallace’s “The Pale King”, Karen Russell’s “Swamplandia” and Denis Johnson’s “Train Dreams.”
But for the first time since 1977, by failing to come to a majority decision, the Pulitzer Board’s conclusion is that no book is worthy of the prize.
Susan Larson, the chair of the jury, said:
The jury members were all shocked and disappointed and angry at the news, of course. We thought so highly of these three books, we took our responsibilities very seriously, and our decision was unanimous.”
According to the book “The Pulitzer Prize Archive”, in 1977 the board vetoed the jury’s decision to give the prize to “A River Runs Through It”, saying that none of the shortlist were prizeworthy. In 1984, the board overruled the jury, and gave the prize to a different book.
This year, according to a tweet by Publisher’s Marketplace news editor Sarah Weinman, the Board “failed to reach a majority” on the issue.
This wasn’t the only no-award this year – the category of Editorial Writing was also deemed unworthy of a winner.
In the other literary categories, the late Manning Marable was awarded the History Pulitzer (after the Board moved his entry from the Biography category) for “Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention”, Stephen Greenblatt was awarded the General Nonfiction Prize for “The Swerve: How The World Became Modern”, to go with his National Book Award this year, and John Lewis Gaddis won the Biography or Autobiography award for “George F. Kennan: An American Life”. The poetry winner was Tracy K. Smith for her collection “Life on Mars.”
The Pulitzer Prizes are awarded for achievements in journalism, literature and musical composition. They were established in 1917, and are run by Columbia University.
Winners are awarded a certificate and $10,000.