Book world expresses disappointment, outrage over Pulitzer snub

Pulitzer juror Susan Larson said she and the rest of the fiction jury are 'shocked … angry … and very disappointed' that the Pulitzer board elected not to choose a 2012 fiction winner.

The three books chosen the fiction jury as finalists for the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction were 'Swamplandia!' by Karen Russell, 'Train Dreams' by Denis Johnson and 'The Pale King' by David Foster Wallace.

Some members of the book community were outraged when the announcement was made that there would not be a Pulitzer Prize awarded for fiction this year, the first time in 35 years that such an event had occurred and the eleventh time in the prize’s history.

For the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, a fiction jury chose three candidates and submitted them to the Pulitzer Prize board, selecting “Swamplandia!” by Karen Russell, “The Pale King” by David Foster Wallace and “Train Dreams” by Denis Johnson. Per awards procedure, it was the Pulitzer Prize board members who then decided that none of the three finalists would receive the award.

One of the three jurors who chose the three finalists has publicly expressed their displeasure with the Pulitzer committee’s decision.

 Juror Susan Larson, host of the National Public Radio program “The Reading Life,” told NPR that she and the rest of the jurors are “shocked … angry … and very disappointed” over the decision.

“This was a lot of work,” she said. “I think we all would have been happy if any of [the three] books had been selected.”

She and the other two jurors, previous Pulitzer winner for fiction Michael Cunningham and NPR “Fresh Air” host Maureen Corrigan, don’t know why the Pulitzer committee did not select a winner, said Larson.

Administrator of the Pulitzer Prizes Sig Gissler told the Associated Press that none of the three nominated novels received a majority from the Pulitzer board.

“Whenever they make a decision, it’s not meant to be a statement about fiction in general,” Gissler told the New York Times. “It’s just a statement that none was able to receive a majority.”

Paul Bogaards, director of publicity at “Swamplandia!” publisher Alfred A. Knopf, said the lack of a winner was a disappointment partly because of the sales numbers a win can bring.

“It's the most significant award in American letters and it's a shame the jury couldn't find a work of fiction this year,” Bogaards told the AP. “The Pulitzer makes sales. It's a prize that can change the career trajectory of a writer.”

Previous Pulitzer winner Jane Smiley expressed her displeasure on her Facebook page.

“I can't believe there wasn't a worthy one,” the author told the Associated Press. “It's a shame. But sometimes a selection committee really cannot agree, and giving no award is the outcome. Too bad.”

Little, Brown and Company editor Michael Pietsch, who edited “The Pale King,” said he saw the finalist status of “Pale King” as a reward in itself.

“Anything that brings readers to David's brilliant novels, especially his great novel `Infinite Jest,' is a good thing!” he told the Associated Press.

The last time a fiction award was not given was in 1977, when the fiction jury chose the Norman MacLean work “A River Runs Through It” as its recommendation for winner, but the Pulitzer board did not award the prize. On some occasions when an award has been withheld, the reason for the decision has come out – in 1941, the fiction jury said the award should be given to Ernest Hemingway’s novel “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” and the Pulitzer Board was willing to select it until the Columbia University president asked the board to change its mind because he found the novel offensive. Columbia administers the Pulitzer Prizes.

2012 Pulitzer winners in other categories included an award in history for Manning Marable for his book "Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention"; an award in biography to John Lewis Gaddis for "George F. Kennan: An American Life"; an award in nonfiction to Stephen Greenblatt for "The Swerve: How the World Became Modern"; an award in drama to Quiara Alegría Hudes for "Water by the Spoonful";  an award in poetry to Tracy K. Smith for "Life on Mars"; and an award in music to Kevin Puts for "Silent Night: An Opera in Two Acts."   

Molly Driscoll is a Monitor contributor.

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