A couple of weeks ago the Pulitzer Board stunned the literary world by not selecting a winner in its fiction category. For book lovers it’s like breathing – how could you not do it? This is the first time since 1977 that Pulitzer hasn’t chosen anyone to receive its literary fiction award; usually a guarantee of free publicity and increased sales for the winner and their publisher. A 3-member panel selects the fiction category, after reviewing hundreds of books and sends 3 finalists to Pulitzer’s board for a decision.
The authors who missed out this year are Denis Johnson for Train Dreams; Karen Russell for Swamplandia; and David Foster Wallace for The Pale King, which was compiled from notes he left when he died in 2008 and published last year.
“Every publisher in America would agree that it is a missed opportunity,” said Paul Bogaards, director of publicity at Alfred A. Knopf that published Swamplandia! He cited the tenfold sales boost for previous winner Jennifer Egan and her book A Visit From the Goon Squad. “It has a demonstrable effect on sales, especially in the fiction category,” he added.
But, Pulitzer administrator Sig Gissler called the lack of a fiction winner “unusual,” but noted that none of this year’s finalists received a majority of board votes. “I can say that multiple factors were involved. Beyond that, we do not discuss the deliberations, which are confidential,” he said in an email. “We realize that the lack of an award in Fiction is a disappointment to many. We regret that. But I can assure you that the Board made a considered decision.”
Chairwoman of the Pulitzer fiction panel Susan Larson told National Public Radio that the jurors had read some 300 books and were “shocked … angry … and very disappointed” that the Pulitzer board couldn’t pick a winner. “I think we all would have been happy if any of books had been selected,” she said.