The word Pulitzer carries along with it a sense of true prestige, and yet, after this year, I can’t help but feel that now it wears the weighty baggage of being stuffy, priggish, rigid, and downright lame. In this post, I first thought to attempt investigate journalism: to explore previous years in which a fiction award was not bestowed (10 times), or examine the criteria, or what exactly a no vote means in the language of the award, but I felt that this type of effort would pander to precisely the type of inane chatter that awards bring up. I don’t want to play this game of who was better, or who deserved the award, because I am not a panelist, and so many people did deserve the award.
I just want to discuss the obvious missed opportunity of a no vote represents. Not only were there many deserving awards, but if you attempt to look at previous winners compared to our year, you will feel baffled in the comparison. A vote of no vote either means no real winner could emerge from a batch of amazing books, or nothing, even if we could create a hierarchy deserved the award, but both of these ideas, even if true, are stupid, and kind of a bit pretentious. It’s ridiculous to think that judges couldnt choose a best book from such an impressive batch, and it’s even sadder to think that they couldnt choose a best book for this year. No one asked them to choose the best book ever, but as Ann Patchett points out, we missed an opportunity here to celebrate something important. The whole idea of a non-vote is ridiculous. Can you actually fathom a year in a which a book isn't good enough for the standards of the all-mighty Pulitzer? I can’t, because many of this year’s nominee should win in a previous year, so it must come down to the fact it was too hard to choose, which is also a ridiculously pretentious option because it ends up putting more focus on the award than on the books themselves.
Let’s think of one possible alternative to a no vote. Though I am biased towards the work of David Foster Wallace, even so, I find his book a perfect example of what we could have accomplished with the Pulitzer. I admit that though some of the Pale King might display DFW’s best work to date, as an unfinished novel, I cannot think it was better than all of the books of the year, and certainly not DFW’s best book ever. But let’s ask a simple question, couldn’t the judges have risen past their limited criteria and chosen a book that represents the lifetime work of one of our best authors of this century? Don’t we give oscars to people who might not deserve them for this specific movie, but deserve recognition for a lifetime of work (Denzel Washington for Training Day, Jeff Bridges for Crazy Heart)? I know lifetime achievement awards exist, but they don’t in the world of the Pulitzer and bestowing a Pulitzer on the Pale King would not only have introduced a whole new and diverse population to this book, but the pained story and astounding works of DFW.
Think about it, even with the death of DFW, as his readership grew, it seemed to grow in a linear manner in that younger people who fit the mold of DFW readers (perhaps lonely, young, highly educated etc) started to read DFW. But imagine that with the stamp of the Pulitzer DFW works were opened to a real diverse range of people who could now feel incentive to challenge themselves.
Many say that to bestow a Pulitzer on a posthumous wouldn’t be fair, but not be fair to whom? I don’t know many authors who would feel offended by this type of an award, or the benefits the literary world would reap, and if it is about betraying some ancient standards of awards, then who really cares? Furthermore, let’s say it started a conversation about literature, about posthumous literature, and about the nature of awards, wouldn’t that serve as a much better conversation for the literary world than the unflattering conversation we need to engage in now about the meaning of a no vote?
To me, what this boils down to is either a cowardice - an inability to choose - or a pretentiousness, a rigidity to rules that no one cares about besides the institution itself. Both options seem sad, and lame, and generally pathetic. Instead of a positive conversation that would provide an always welcome jolt to the world of literature, we look like idiots, like dorks in fact. In fact, for those of you once upon a time camp-goers, imagine the judges told you that after three days of intense, albeit stupid color war battles, no one wins, because it’s just too hard to tell, or no one won because we all suck, equally, or the most pandering, you are all winners! I hope that as a camp we would revolt, and though I can’t hope for anything similar in the calm world of literature were we argue, kindly, with our words, I do hope that someone from the Pulitzer world answers for this stupidity, though I highly doubt it. Both the readers and the writers deserve a real explanation on that doesn’t not insult us or rely on some stupid obsession with rules or precedence.
For a calmer argument, read the always amazing Ann Patchett - http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/18/opinion/and-the-winner-of-the-pulitzer-isnt.html?_r=1
Thanks for reading,