In a move that many claim speaks poorly for the novels of 2011, Columbia University has refused to declare a winner for this year’s Pulitzer Prize for fiction. This is the eleventh time in Pulitzer’s history, and the first time in 35 years, that the $10,000 fiction award will be withheld.
Novelist Michael Cunningham (The Hours (2000), Specimen Days (2006), etc.) and literary critics Maureen Corrigan and Susan Larson had originally selected 341 novels for consideration. The three novels contending for a majority vote for the prestigious prize were:
- Karen Russell’s debut novel, Swamplandia!, about a family’s struggle to run a failing gator-wrestling theme park.
- David Foster Wallace’s posthumously published, The Pale King, set in an Internal Revenue Service center in Illinois and published from notes he left prior to his death in 2008.
- Denis Johnson’s American Old West novella, Train Dreams.
“The main reason [for the fiction decision] is that not one of the three entries received a majority and thus, after lengthy consideration, no prize was awarded,” administrator of the Pulitzers, Sig Gissler, explained. “There were multiple factors involved in these decisions, and we don’t discuss in detail why a prize is given or not given.”
The decision is being criticized by writers, publishers, and bibliophiles alike, especially for the effect that it will undoubtedly have on this year’s book sales. Jennifer Egan’s A Visit From the Goon Squad (2010) enjoyed a dramatic increase in sales after Egan won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction, and the award has served to solidify dramatic increases in sales for previous winners. “Every publisher in America would agree that it is a missed opportunity,” Paul Bogaards, Director of Publicity at Alfred A. Knopf, said.
Columbia University still awarded prizes for the other literary categories this year:
Non-Fiction: The Swerve: How the World Became Modern by Stephen Greenblatt
Biography: John Lewis Gaddis’s George F. Kennan: An American Life
History: Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by the late Manning Marable
Poetry: Life on Mars by Tracy K Smith