the 2012 Pulitzer Prizes, honoring the previous year’s best works in journalism and the arts, were awarded yesterday. However, two categories was notably absent from the presentation: fiction and editorial writing.
The Daily Beast reports on the decision not to award a fiction prize:
On Monday, the prize committee announced that it had not chosen a winner for the fiction award for the first time since 1977… Maureen Corrigan, one of three jurors for the fiction prize, said she was just as shocked as everyone else when she learned Monday that there would be no fiction winner. “Honestly, I feel angry on behalf of three great American novels,” said Corrigan, a critic in residence at Georgetown University and a book critic for NPR’s Fresh Air.
Corrigan, along with Susan Larson, former books editor of The Times-Picayune and host of The Reading Life on WWNO-FM, and Michael Cunningham, author of the 1999 Pulitzer winner The Hours, read about 300 novels each over the course of six months. They then met and corresponded to pick the required three finalists: the late David Foster Wallace’s posthumous and unfinished The Pale King, which was pieced together from manuscripts by Wallace’s editor, Michael Pietsch; the young Karen Russell’s quaintly surreal debut Swamplandia!; and Denis Johnson’s stark and spare novella Train Dreams. The three were submitted to the Pulitzer Prize board, made up of 20 journalists and academics, 18 of them voting members, who must come to a majority vote on the winner. Or not, as was the case this year. Corrigan, Larson, and Cunningham realized that all their hard work had come to naught.
This year’s selections didn’t exactly provide a clear winner: The Pale King, while an excellent final look at the genius of David Foster Wallace, is not a finished work; Train Dreams is a reissue of a novella that was first issued in 2002; and Swamplandia! is a thoroughly enjoyable (if exceptionally trippy) novel that doesn’t fit into the standard Pulitzer-winner model.
As for the editorial prize, The Pulitzer website names the nominees:
Nominated as finalists in this category were: Paula Dwyer and Mark Whitehouse of Bloomberg News for their analysis of and prescription for the European debt crisis, dealing with important technical questions in ways that the average readers could grasp; Tim Nickens, Joni James, John Hill and Robyn Blumner of the Tampa Bay (Fla.) Times for editorials that examined the policies of a new, inexperienced governor and their impact on the state, using techniques that stretched the typical editorial format and caused the governor to mend some of his ways; and Aki Soga and Michael Townsend, of the Burlington (Vt.) Free Press, for their campaign that resulted in the state’s first reform of open government laws in 35 years, reducing legal obstacles that helped shroud the work of government officials.
Much speculation has arisen as to why the Pulitzer committee chose not to award the prizes. One frequently-posited guess is that the committee simply felt that there were no selections from 2011 that deserved the Pulitzer; however, another possible reason is that the works elicited such strong responses that the committee deadlocked. “They could have been passionate admirers of all three books [or editorials],” said Harold Augenbraum, executive director of The National Book Foundation which administers The National Book Awards. “And because the Pulitzer board has to vote in a majority, and so if you have 18 members, if you’ve got seven, seven, and four, that means that there’s not going to be a prize. It doesn’t necessarily mean they didn’t think one of the books was worthy.” This is similar to what happened in the editorial category, as Pulitzer administrator Sig Gissler (somewhat obliquely) explained to the Washington Post:
Yet none of the entries was able to “muster a majority vote” of the Pulitzer board, says Gissler. Then why not just award multiple winners, a la [the] investigative category [where two awards were given in 2012]? “The board can do anything it wants to,” responded Gissler. “In investigative, the board felt that two prizes were appropriate. In editorial, none of the three achieved a majority. It’s not a message,” says the administrator, contradicting at least one commentator who’s drawing some conclusions. “It’s a situation.”
Regardless of the reason, the committee’s decisions have raised the ire of readers, publishers, and Pulitzer judges alike. “I think there’s something amiss in a system where three books this good are presented and there’s not a prize,” judge Michael Cunningham said of the decision, “So, yeah, they might want to look into that.” Echoing a sentiment shared by many, Jonathan Galassi of publisher Farrar, Straus & Giroux described himself as “shellshocked” by the “missed opportunity” of awarding the Pulitzer — “Awards are very important to focus attention on books [and newspapers]. So when one isn’t given, it’s a missed boat, and I’m sad about that.”