Pulitzer Prize Shocker: No Fiction Prize Awarded

For the first time since 1977 -- and only the sixth time ever -- the Pulitzer board declined to honor a book in the fiction category.

The Pulitzer Prizes for books were announced Monday by Columbia University, and for the first time since 1977 and the sixth time since the award started in 1948, the committee did not award a fiction prize.

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The prize in General Nonfiction went to The Swerve: How the World Became Modern by Stephen Greenblatt. Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by Manning Marable, the Columbia University historian who died on the eve of its publication, won in History. Yale professor John Lewis Gaddis won the Biography prize for George F. Kennan: An American Life. In poetry, Tracy Smith won for her collection Life on Mars.

But the big surprise was the failure to award a Fiction prize.

The three fiction finalists were Train Dreams by Denis Johnson, which the committee called “a novella about a day laborer in the old American West, bearing witness to terrors and glories with compassionate, heartbreaking calm"; Swamplandia! by Karen Russell, described as "an adventure tale about an eccentric family adrift in its failing alligator-wrestling theme park, told by a 13-year-old heroine wise beyond her years"; and The Pale King, the posthumously published novel by David Foster Wallace, who committed suicide in 2008, that explored boredom and bureaucracy in the American workplace, primarily through the lives of a group of IRS workers in Peoria, Ill.

The jury for the fiction prize included Maureen Corrigan, the book critic on NPR's Fresh Air; the novelist Michael Cunningham (The Hours); and Susan Larson, former book editor at The Times-Picayune in New Orleans.

The jury submits a list of finalists to the Pulitzer board, which then chooses the winner. The board offered no explanation as to why it decided not to select a winner beyond this short statement: 

"The three books were fully considered, but in the end, none mustered the mandatory majority for granting a prize, so no prize was awarded.”

More information about the Pulitzers can be found here, including information about the journalism prizes.


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