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No award for the Pulitzer Prize in fiction will be given this year, it was announced earlier this week. Three finalists were listed: Train Dreams by Denis Johnson, a novella focusing on the life and times of a western logger, Swamplandia! by Karen Russell, a book about a thirteen year old trying to save her quirky family’s alligator wrestling park, and The Pale King by David Foster Wallace, which examined the American workplace. Foster had been at work on it when he committed suicide in 2008.
This is not the first time the prize committee has declined to hand out an award. Throughout the award’s history, this outcome has occurred on nine other occasions. The last time this happened was in 1977. No award was given for editorial writing, either.
The Pulitzer Prize First Edition Guide, which successfully predicted last year’s winner, A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan, put together a list of likely winners which served as the basis for Toonari Post’s own speculations and predictions of the award. Both Train Dreams and Swamplandia! had spots on the list, coming in at 15 and 7, respectively, and have been previously reviewed by Toonari Post. The Pale King, though, comes as a surprise, as many had disregarded it because Foster had not yet finished it at the time of his death.
“The three books were fully considered, but in the end, none mustered the mandatory majority for granting a prize, so no prize was awarded,” said Sig Gissler, administrator of the Pulitzer Prizes, declining to go into further detail. Train Dreams is a novella and, with the board usually favoring longer works, it is at a bit of a disadvantage. The Pale King, as previously stated, is incomplete. Swamplandia!, though both complete and a full-length novel, is too quirky for some people’s tastes.
Although the award’s reputation ensures winners to have some place in literary history, in years when no Pulitzers were awarded, some of the most revered works of fiction were published.
Both For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway and Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon, two works that were recommended to the Pulitzer board and subsequently snubbed in years where no award was given, have gone on to be recognized as literary masterpieces.
Could any of the works nominated for the Prize go on to become classics? Only time will tell. In the mean time a forum has been set up by the Pulitzer Prize First Edition Guide to discuss next year’s award.