The late Manning Marable won the Pulitzer Prize for history Monday, honored for a Malcolm X book he worked on for decades, but did not live to see published. For the first time in 35 years, no fiction prize was given.
David Foster Wallace's "The Pale King," a novel assembled from notes he left behind at the time of his suicide in 2008, was among the finalists for fiction. Also cited were Karen Russell's "Swamplandia" and Denis Johnson's novella "Train Dreams." Johnson's novel "Tree of Smoke" was a Pulitzer finalist in 2008.
"The main reason is that no one of the three entries received a majority, and thus after lengthy consideration, no prize was awarded," said Sig Gissler, administrator of the Pulitzer Prizes. "There were multiple factors involved in these decisions, and we don't discuss in detail why a prize is given or not given."
News about the fiction category was greeted with surprise.
Fiction judges have withheld the Pulitzer 10 times before, according to Gissler, most recently in 1977.
Quiara Alegria Hudes's play "Water by the Spoonful," which centers on an Iraq war veteran's search for meaning, won the Pulitzer for drama. Hudes previously wrote the book for the Broadway show "In the Heights," which won the Tony Award for Best Musical in 2008. Her play "Elliot, A Soldier's Fugue" was a finalist for the Pulitzer in 2007.
Marable, a longtime professor at Columbia University, died last year just as "Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention" was being released. Years in the making, the book was widely praised, although some of Malcolm X's children objected to the troubled portrait Marable offered of the activist's marriage to Betty Shabazz.
Another long-term project, John Lewis Gaddis' "George F. Kennan: An American Life," won the Pulitzer for biography. Gaddis is a Yale University professor and leading Cold War scholar who began work on the Kennan book in the early 1980s. The project was delayed by Kennan's longevity. Kennan, a founding Cold War strategist and a Pulitzer winner, was in his 70s at the time he authorized the book. He asked only that Gaddis wait until after his death.
Kennan lived to 101.
"He was a prize-winning author himself, so he would have been pleased," said Gaddis, whose biography also won the National Book Critics Circle award.
"Life on Mars," by Tracy K. Smith, won the poetry prize. The general nonfiction prize was given to "The Swerve: How the World Became Modern," Stephen Greenblatt's telling of the 15th century rediscovery of the Latin poet Lucretius. Kevin Puts' "Silent Night: Opera in Two Acts" was honored for music. Puts' debut opera, it was commissioned and premiered by the Minnesota Opera in Minneapolis on November 12, 2011.
"When I was composing it, I felt like it was in some ways easier than anything I've ever written," Puts said. "It just felt natural for me, my first opera. I just thought as soon as I started: If nothing else, I wanted this to go well enough so I could write another opera."