The Pulitzer Prize for fiction is, along with the National Book Award, the most important awards in literature written in the United States. It is given to a single work by an American author, preferably about life in America, published the previous year.
I love awards and award shows, but I also am conflicted. To wit: I often use them to get what I want: “Let’s go see that movie, it was nominated for 8 Academy Awards so it must be good!” I also use them regularly to show how crappy the world is: “The Academy Awards are a joke—Helen Hunt has an Oscar. Helen Hunt!”
I’m like that with the Pulitzers, too, but I give broader latitude because, well, I do. I don’t have to explain, much like the Pulitzer board.
Earlier this month Anthony Doerr’s “All the Light We Cannot See” was given this honor. Because it was about Europe in World War II, clearly the criterion about American life is not a deal breaker. Even the American description of the author is loose: Writers who primarily identify as Canadian have been finalists.
There have been several years when the board didn’t give anyone an award for fiction. What does that say to the publishing world? Really? Nothing published the previous year is good enough to be called a Pulitzer Prize winner? (I wish the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences had that kind of nerve instead of handing a statuette to Helen freaking Hunt! But I digress.)
Sometimes they give the award for a lesser work to make up for a perceived slight— witness Anne Tyler’s “Breathing Lessons” winning in 1988 instead of her 1983 novel “Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant,” which most people consider her best work. The 1983 award went, controversially, to Alice Walker’s “The Color Purple” just FYI.
Here are a couple facts you may find interesting, or you may not, I don’t care, but I need to pad out this post:
When this category was set up, it was originally called the Novel category and stayed that way from 1917 (the first year of the award when, just to show they were no pushovers, they gave no award) to 1947 (when they awarded Robert Penn Warren’s “All the King’s Men.”) The following year, it became the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction to rightfully honor other types of creative fiction like James Michener’s collection of somewhat related short stories “Tales of the South Pacific” could be honored, as it was that first year in 1948.
Secondly, you can nominate your own work for the Pulitzer. The criteria are here and if you have a spare 50 bucks and a work published between Jan. 1 and June 14 of this year, I hereby dare you.
So what am I going to read? Who knows? But I can assure you of one thing: It’s a Pulitzer Prize-winner, so it’s bound to be good.
So what am I going to read? Who knows? But I can assure you of one thing: It’s a Pulitzer Prize-winner, so it’s likely to be crap.