Fiction Jury Furious at Pulitzer Board for Not Handing Out Prize

The Pulitzer Prizes were handed out yesterday, except the board decided not to award a Fiction prize, much to the chagrin of that category's jury, The Daily Beast reports:

SwamplandiaMaureen Corrigan, one of three jurors for the fiction prize, says 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 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.

Adds EW:

To be fair to the Board, the jurors may have made the decision more difficult than it should have been. Johnson’s Train Dreams is a novella that was re-issued from 2002, and the board may have felt as though it was something they’d seen before. The posthumously published, incomplete The Pale King wasn’t the late Wallace’s best work. But why not give the award to Russell? Swamplandia! isn’t the typical Pulitzer winner, but it’s an intelligent, inventive, and thoroughly entertaining read. In a time when people aren’t buying books — especially literary adult novels — it seems counterproductive and insulting not to hand out a Pulitzer Prize, which translates into sales. Last year’s winner, Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad, got a huge boost in paperback after the announcement.

Full list of prizewinners here.

PS – Congrats to Eli Sanders at The Stranger for his powerful account of the South Park attacks on Jennifer Hopper and Teresa Butz.


  1. happyday says

    I don’t find this so unusual or shocking. They simply did not find any of the submitted works to be of the caliber befitting the Pulitzer Prize. Just to hand out a prize because it will result in more sales kind of cheapens the whole concept of the award.

  2. Esther Blodgett says

    As was the case with the Drama prize two years ago, the Board could have rejected all three of the jury’s submissions and rallyed around a selection of its own.

    There was NO American novel in 2011 worthy of a Pulitzer Prize?

    Same with Editorial Writing–there were NO editorials written in 2011 worthy of a Pulitzer Prize?

    While not “unusual” or “shocking”, I would call these decisons embarrassing for the Board.

  3. Jack M says

    Swamplandia! is overhyped, The Pale King is essentially unfinished, and Train Dreams was probably considered to be too short. The real question is why weren’t more deserving novels even nominated?

  4. luminum says

    I agree with Esther. Why would the council bother nominating the works in the first place if none of them seriously deserved the prize?

    The council doesn’t risk weakening the brand if it doesn’t nominate works that they feel will cheapen the wholesale concept of the award in the first place.

    It makes them look bad, because it means that they never seriously considered the works they nominated to begin with. They were the ones who screwed up and wound up with works they couldn’t deem acceptable for the award. To me, that cheapens the concept of the award process more than anything.

  5. Paul R says

    How could they possibly have read 300 books in six months? Even if they split them up (which would be a dubious approach)? That means they’re lying or they just scanned them, given that they have other jobs.

  6. Tonic says


    I agree with you about Swamplandia! I was surprised at its acclaim – especially when the author obviously used Geek Love as a template for both language-style and subject matter (an often-used formula for newer writers: just use another popular novel and tweak it).

    I also agree that there are MANY other novels that could and should have been included/nominated.

  7. jim says

    If these 3 choices were the best the jurors could come up with–out of 300??–perhaps it’s time to be a bit more scrupulous in selecting jurors! And aren’t there sensible criteria for selecting the 3 choices (like, oh say, “must be a first printing” and “must be a complete work”)? Gimme a break. Something just a liiiiitle too esoteric here.

  8. TomJckOff says

    what a stupid setup the board has made for themselves. There should no possibility for judges (who acted stupidly, INCREDIBLY stupidly) to not get a majority vote on any one work. Pulitzer has set themselves up for an ignominious reproach. I fart in your general direction after my liverwurst and onion sandwich.

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