GENEVA, SWITZERLAND – The best and brightest of American writing were named by Columbia University’s Pulitzer Prize board Monday 16 April and among them were journalists and poets, but no fiction writers. What an extraordinary statement this makes about the current state of the art in the US, which at last count, in 2009, was the world’s largest producer of books, with 288,000 published that year according to Unesco.
The last time there was no Pulitzer fiction award was in 1977. The Pulitzer Prize board has not provided any explanation and, curiously, given that the award is one of the biggest for fiction in the US, American media are focusing more on the journalism award going to a 23-year-old than to the fact that no one wrote a novel considered big enough for the fiction prize.
Three books were nominated as finalists for the $10,000 award (from the Pulitzer site):
“Train Dreams,” by Denis Johnson (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), a novella about a day laborer in the old American West, bearing witness to terrors and glories with compassionate, heartbreaking calm; “Swamplandia!” by Karen Russell (Alfred A. Knopf), an adventure tale about an eccentric family adrift in its failing alligator-wrestling theme park, told by a 13-year-old heroine wise beyond her years, and “The Pale King,” by the late David Foster Wallace (Little, Brown and Company), a posthumously completed novel, animated by grand ambition, that explores boredom and bureaucracy in the American workplace.
The three jurors were Susan Larson, former book editor, The Times-Picayune, and host of “The Reading Life” at WWNO-FM radio (chair),
Maureen Corrigan, critic in residence, Georgetown University, and book critic on NPR’s “Fresh Air”, Michael Cunningham, novelist, New York City.