Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Pulitzer Prizes for Fiction Since 1948

There was no Pulitzer Prize awarded in fiction this year. I dislike this seldom- practiced option. That a panel of judges finds no book up to their standards is both hooey and narcissistic.

Should there ever be no Pulitzer awarded in fiction? Is it really possible that no book was good enough to win? What books written in 2011 stood out? Of course, genre books are off the table. None have won. LONESOME DOVE is probably the closest winner.

How many of the books below have you read? I have read quite a few and all of them were excellent for me. Oddly, the 2010 award is the only novel I haven't even heard of.


2012 No award

2011 A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan (Alfred A.. Knopf)
2010 Tinkers by Paul Harding (Bellevue Literary Press)

2009 Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout (Random House)2008 The Brief Wondrous Life of 2008 Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz (Riverhead Books

2007 The Road by Cormac McCarthy (Alfred A. Knopf)

2006 March by Geraldine Brooks (Viking)
2005 Gilead by Marilynne Robinson (Farrar)
2004 The Known World by Edward P. Jones (Amistad/ HarperCollins)
2003 Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides (Farrar)
2002 Empire Falls by Richard Russo (Alfred A. Knopf)
2001 The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon (Random House)
2000 Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri (Mariner Books/Houghton Mifflin)
1999 The Hours by Michael Cunningham (Farrar, Straus & Giroux)
1998 American Pastoral by Philip Roth (Houghton Mifflin)
1997 Martin Dressler: The Tale of an American Dreamer by Steven Millhauser (Crown)
1996 Independence Day by Richard Ford (Alfred A. Knopf)
1995 The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields (Viking)
1994 The Shipping News by E. Annie Proulx (Charles Scribner's Sons)
1993 A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain by Robert Olen Butler (Henry Holt)
1992 A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley (Alfred A. Knopf)
1991 Rabbit At Rest by John Updike (Alfred A. Knopf)
1990 The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love by Oscar Hijuelos (Farrar)
1989 Breathing Lessons by Anne Tyler (Alfred A. Knopf)
1988 Beloved by Toni Morrison (Alfred A. Knopf)
1987 A Summons to Memphis by Peter Taylor (Alfred A. Knopf)
1986 Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry (Simon & Schuster)
1985 Foreign Affairs by Alison Lurie (Random House)
1984 Ironweed by William Kennedy (Viking)
1983 The Color Purple by Alice Walker (Harcourt Brace)
1982 Rabbit Is Rich by John Updike (Knopf)
1981 A Confederacy of Dunces by the late John Kennedy Toole (a posthumous publication) (Louisiana State U. Press)
1980 The Executioner's Song by Norman Mailer (Little)
1979 The Stories of John Cheever by John Cheever (Knopf)
1978 Elbow Room by James Alan McPherson (Atlantic Monthly Press)
1977 (No Award)
1976 Humboldt's Gift by Saul Bellow (Viking)
1975 The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara (McKay)
1974 (No Award)
1973 The Optimist's Daughter by Eudora Welty (Random)
1972 Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner (Doubleday)
1971 (No Award)
1970 Collected Stories by Jean Stafford (Farrar)
1969 House Made of Dawn by N. Scott Momaday (Harper)
1968 The Confessions of Nat Turner by William Styron (Random)
1967 The Fixer by Bernard Malamud (Farrar)
1966 Collected Stories by Katherine Anne Porter (Harcourt)
1965 The Keepers Of The House by Shirley Ann Grau (Random)
1964 (No Award)
1963 The Reivers by William Faulkner (Random)
1962 The Edge of Sadness by Edwin O'Connor (Little)
1961 To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee (Lippincott)
1960 Advise and Consent by Allen Drury (Doubleday)
1959 The Travels of Jaimie McPheeters by Robert Lewis Taylor (Doubleday)
1958 A Death In The Family by the late James Agee (a posthumous publication) (McDowell, Obolensky)
1957 (No Award)
1956 Andersonville by MacKinlay Kantor (World)
1955 A Fable by William Faulkner (Random)
1954 (No Award)
1953 The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway (Scribner)
1952 The Caine Mutiny by Herman Wouk (Doubleday)
1951 The Town by Conrad Richter (Knopf)
1950 The Way West by A. B. Guthrie (Sloane)
1949 Guard of Honor by James Gould Cozzens (Harcourt)
1948 Tales of the South Pacific by James A. Michener


Dana King said...

I've read six and liked them all, though I don't know I think of KAVALIER AND CLAY as a book I finished and thought, "Wow."

I checked the Pulitzer web site and found this when looking for their selection criteria:

There are no set criteria for the judging of the Prizes. The definitions of each category (see How to Enter or Administration page) are the only guidelines. It is left up to the Nominating Juries and The Pulitzer Prize Board to determine exactly what makes a work "distinguished."

Given that standard, to select no book is enough of an exercise in hubris to make it hard to take the awards seriously.

pattinase (abbott) said...

The three books the board did not choose: Swamplandia, Pale Kings and Train Dreams all have their proponents and nay-sayers. I expect it might have been THE MARRIAGE PLOT if he hadn't won for MIDDLESEX.

F.T. Bradley said...

I've read five of these... I'm not a fan of this award. Genre is king for me :-)

Silly that they didn't award it this year; it just makes them look like fools, imo.

George said...

I believe awards and prizes are marketing devices to sell books, movies, etc. I'm sure the publishers of the nominated books are unhappy with the NO WINNER decision by the committee.

Ron Scheer said...

I count only 7, and another 5 I started but never finished. Is it possible that the judges just couldn't agree? I often puzzle over LONESOME DOVE being a Pulitzer winner. It's a good yarn, but I wouldn't rank McMurtry with most of the others.

John said...

Most contemporary fiction leaves me utterly bored these days. But I think someone should give that imaginative writer Karen Russell an award for something - maybe hutzpah. Was Swamplandia really nominated? Her short story collection St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves was a knock out, in my opinion.

As for no genre books among the Pulitzers: I think Chabon's award winner is very much a genre novel ABOUT a genre that would never win a Pultizer (comic books); THE ROAD is dystopian horror; BELOVED is a ghost story; A THOUSAND ACRES is basically a crime novel; TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD has elements of both crime and mystery novels. There may be others in that long list, but I've not read enough of them to go further with my genre stretching exercise.

Margot Kinberg said...

Patti - One has to wonder why that group of people thought that nothing - no book - deserved a Pulitzer this year. What exactly were they looking for????

Anonymous said...

There have been three westerns: Lonesome Dove, by Larry McMurtry, The Way West, by A. B. Guthrie, Jr., and The Travels of Jaimie McPheeters by Robert Lewis Taylor.

What has vanished from consideration is popular fiction, with Lonesome Dove the last of these. Before, such best-selling novels as Gone With the Wind, The Caine Mutiny, and Advise and Consent, all popular and not "literary" fiction, occasionally won.

pattinase (abbott) said...

That's is definitely the losing genre. I even wonder if it exists.

Anonymous said...

A friend with an advanced degree in literary criticism tells me that prior to the late 60s and 70s, the distinction between popular and literary fiction didn't exist. It was all literature. I've been able to confirm it from reading old reviews and criticism. A collection like Michener's Tales of the South Pacific, which won a Pulitzer, couldn't be considered now. And the switch to literary fiction doomed the consideration of some grand popular fiction, such as Colleen McCullough's The Thorn Birds, and all of James Clavell's magnificent Oriental novels.

Deb said...

Astonishing! Of all the thousands of books published every year, not one single book was judged worthy to be Pulitzer Prize material? Can you imagine if someone opened the envelope at the Academy Awards and said, "Sorry folks, none of the nominated movies was considered good enough to win so there's not going to be a Best Picture Oscar awarded this year"?

Whatever I think about their books, I have to feel for Denis Johnson and Karen Russell whose books were nominated but not deemed good enough to win. The other nominee, David Foster Wallace, is already beyond the place where such things have the power to hurt him.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Phil and I just talked about this on a walk. Better to not have your book mentioned at all than to have it deemed unworthy.
I wish that distinction would fade away, Richard. Perhaps literary books would sell better then.

Anonymous said...

Deb: Over many years, editors and authors have told me that an unwritten criterion for a Pulitzer winner is "substance"-- which translates into a work of 100,000 words or more. That would exclude any novella, no matter how excellent, and all short fiction.

Cap'n Bob said...

I've read three of them. I've heard of perhaps half of the rest.

Cap'n Bob said...

I've read three of them. I've heard of perhaps half of the rest.

Cap'n Bob said...

I've read three of them. I've heard of perhaps half of the rest.

Al Tucher said...

I have read eight of them, but in most cases I didn't realize they had won the Pulitzer. I just don't pay it much attention.

Anonymous said...

The last one of these I read was the 2001 selection. I have read eleven of them, over the years.

Todd Mason said...

Well, it's not true there was No Distinction between "literary" and "popular" fiction before the 1960s. It's simply that it was a matter of degree, rather than the bald lie that there is an obvious, essential distinction--literary fiction was what was published in the quarterlies and from experimental writers; popular fiction was much more demotic in its appeal, more likely in slicks and pulps...what there wasn't, before the pulps specialized, was a notion of hard and fast "genre" boundaries...a foolish but common misconception I'm glad I'm not the first to note here. Of course there's still "popular fiction"--that's what Stephen King does, and John Grisham, and Kathryn Stockett do. And, yes, since "historical fiction" used to be a "category" (which in this discussion we're calling a "genre"), THE KILLER ANGELS is another "genre" novel to have won, as are THE COLOR PURPLE and ANDERSONVILLE, among others. And, frankly, the Drury and the Michener didn't deserve any such award, and not they alone.

The award wasn't given to the three shortlisters because the jury couldn't come to consensus...which says more about the jury than the books, and helps put the nature of the award in perspective. So, as a promo tool, it is better to be nominated than not to be, and not winning (since the jury members apparently weren't allowed to declare a 3-way tie) is certainly as good as winning in this case.

pattinase (abbott) said...

On the whole, this is a pretty respectable list. And I can see that each of the three nominated books had a problem. One was too short--no novella has ever won. One was finished by another person. And one was a first novel by a very young writer. There were other choices which may have been stronger.
Steve Weddle made a good point elsewhere. That journalists used to go to book page people for help with this. There are very few book page people now given the industry.

Todd Mason said...

It's not, on balance, a bad list. But the notion that these are each the best fiction books of their year is by its nature questionable (except, as with the Drury and the Michener, where it's unquestionable).

Anonymous said...

Well, I bow to the expert. He may wish to correct Wiki, which often gets things wrong. Here is Wiki's opening graph on Literary fiction:

Literary fiction is a term that came into common usage during the early 1960s. The term is principally used to distinguish "serious fiction" which is a work that claims to hold literary merit, in comparison from genre fiction and popular fiction (i.e., paraliterature). In broad terms, literary fiction focuses more upon style, psychological depth, and character.[1][2] This is in contrast to Mainstream commercial fiction, which focuses more on narrative and plot. Literary fiction may also be characterized as lasting fiction — literature which continues to be read and in-demand many decades and perhaps centuries after the author has died.

Todd Mason said...

The notion that plot-driven fiction is paraliterary is so ridiculous as to beggar comment...which, of course, doesn't make it unpopular as as a concept. (Leaving aside the redundancy of "literary fiction" as a label.) I note that the sources the WIKI entry cites for this dating are two web-posts...both apparently written in the 2000s, by people 114% behind the notion of plot v. character in fiction, as opposed to the more common plot and character, in classics as well as most of what's published today, even when the plot is so simple as to approach nonexistence. Not an argument I find compelling, whether I'm an expert or otherwise.

Gerard said...

I'll take this opportunity to complain that Internet Explorer froze when going to Wheeler's website to find a bib of his stuff.

Stupid internet.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Use firefox. Richard is an exceptional western writer who has won the Golden Spur more than any other living western writer, I believe. Try SIERRA first. That's what he told me when I asked. Amazing.

Todd Mason said...

Johnny Boggs caught up with Richard this year, and they have six each...closing in on Elmer Kelton, who won seven over his career.

Gerard said...

I've read one or two Boggs novels. He has a baseball one set in a Confederate run prison during the Civil War. It's a baseball novel that is actually interesting.

Anonymous said...

Gerard, Thanks for your interest. I abandoned a blog some while ago, after concluding I had little of consequence to say and repetition was boring readers. Friends insisted that in this new (and alien) age an internet presence was essential, so I reluctantly returned. It's now called Wheeler's World, and I don't maintain it well. It's mostly a place to flaunt good and bad reviews.

Todd Mason said...

Maureen Corrigan, serial over-enunciator on FRESH AIR and one of the three-person panel who came up with the shortlist for the Pulitzer fiction prize, vents her anger here: