No Award for 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction; Franzen Seethes

At least Franzen didn't win.


On my way home from work, I said to myself, “I’m not going to write about this. I don’t care.” Welp–

As you probably know, the winner of the 2012 Pulitzer Prize For Fiction was “No Award,” written by N.O. Novelist. It’s been 34 years since the 18 member Pulitzer Board last failed to bestow the prize to a work of fiction and, to my surprise, it’s the ninth such incident since the Prize began in 1918, according to January Magazine.

The three finalists were The Pale King by David Foster Wallace, Train Dreams by Denis Johnson, and Swamplandia! by Karen Russell. I haven’t read either Swamplandia! or Train Dreams, and The Pale King is currently waiting for me to crack it open once more. In other words, I have no idea if any of these three books deserve the Prize or not. Seems the Pulitzer Board had the same issue as well, given that they “couldn’t agree” on the winner.

Which suggests, of course, no clear frontrunner, no consensus favorite or even a publishing darling this year. Despite the award being withheld in previous years, I can’t help but feel bothered by the decision, or lack thereof. Since I wasn’t a part of the deliberations–a slight on the Pultizer Board’s part–I have no insight as to what was discussed. I can only assume there were some–shall we say–heated discussions, debates which probably became more passionate as it appeared more and more likely that an award would not be granted. Who knows?

To be clear, I do not think the “no award” decision is a critique on American fiction. It’s unnecessary to delve into hyperbole, to assign the decision to the genre as a whole, as an indictment of sorts. I could be wrong. For all I know, a juror will slip and drop a bombshell–American fiction isn’t worthy of America’s most prestigious literary award–but I doubt it. So please, let’s not make fiction–novels, specifically–the proverbial whipping boy today. David Shields doesn’t need our help.

A part of me wants to say “It’s incumbent upon the Board to select a winner,” which, according to history, wasn’t the case eight other times and certainly wasn’t the case this year. Still, one would hope for some consensus, some resignation on the Board’s part. I’m shocked–truly–that they didn’t give the award to DFW as a posthumous nod to The Pale King and his overall oeuvre.

I have to give credit where credit is due–they could’ve done such a deed and no one would’ve accused them of mailing it in, so to speak. But they didn’t. Whatever the criteria used to select a winner, none of the finalists passed the test. In that sense, integrity won today. I tip my hat to the judges.

I wish they had picked a winner. Personally, I had nothing to gain today as a reader. None of my favorite novels from last year made the list, though I hope they were at least nominated. But the lack of a fiction winner leaves a hollow feeling, rather than something akin to rage or indignation–well, beyond the rage and indignation and LOLs expressed on Twitter (to which I was a party).

We wanted a winner–I wanted a winner. But as I said, respect to the Board–yes, the same individuals who I called “bitch-asses” on Twitter just a few hours ago. What can I say? I’ve had a chance to calm down. Anyway, this won’t preclude people from writing their books–good books, fantastic books, life-changing books–or, in other words, the literary world hasn’t ended. Integrity sucks. That’s the moral of the story.

  • It’s interest to contrast this outcome with the controversy over last year’s Booker Prize–see

    • Thank you, thank you for the link. For the life of me, I couldn’t remember the details from the Booker dust-up last year. It’s quite surprising that, of the two national awards, the Pulitzer and its jurors showed more grace. Score one for America…I guess?

  • The broo-ha being mentioned with respect to the 2011 Man Booker (a prize given to a single novel to a writer from England or one of its former Commonwealth territories) was, actually, not to do with the 2011 Man Booker, but rather to do with the 2011 Man Booker International (a prize given for a writer’s entire oeuvre and open to writers from all nations). Just to clarify.

  • rachel

    the whole literary fiction genre has been destroyed by the MFA clone generation.

    there is not much talent out there anymore–

    kids (yes kids) spend their whole lives in schools, and then they get out and put a ‘novel’ out…. without even having lived.

    not to mention that the nepotism is rampant- everyone publishing everyone elses stories in their lit magazines

    its sad…. but eventually the cream should rise to the top.

    • With all due respect, seriously? Come on.

      There is so much talent out there. There is ample evidence to back this up. There is no MFA clone generation (I don’t have one so this isn’t defensiveness). This is just parroting the same reductive thinking people offer when they take a limited view of the writing community. I hear these arguments time after time and it’s just not the case. Nepotism exists in absolutely every realm but more often than not, it is not nepotism at work when writers get published. People like to console themselves with this conspiracy theory of nepotism to explain why they can’t achieve a certain milestone. I’m not saying that about you. I don’t know you. But writers have got to stop obsessing over nepotism. The writing community is relatively small. It is, given the overabundance of literary magazines, increasingly difficult to not publish people you know but most editors I know reject their friends more often than they accept work from their friends. And so what if an editor publishes their friends? I know some great writers. I’ll happily publish them if their work is a good fit. And yes, cream generally does rise straight to the top.

    • I think I read this exact explanation somewhere–maybe from countless blogs, magazines, tweets, etc. I’m not even saying I disagree with you–but at least formulate some original thoughts.

  • Paul

    Hard to take this editor seriously on the subject with her track record.

    • Contribute something worthwhile to the discussion or shut up. Thanks for reading!