I didn't know this could happen. Literally, the last time it happened, I wasn't even born yet. No Pulitzer Prize for Fiction was awarded this year, because the jury couldn't agree on a winner. They didn't say every book published in 2011 sucked, just that among the shortlist nominees, nobody stood out. I believe the exact quote from Sig Gissler is: "The three books were fully considered, but in the end, none mustered the mandatory majority for granting a prize, so no prize was awarded." Excuse me if I find this a little bit silly.
I won't deny that as a reader, the Pulitzer Prize was my favorite Award. Over the last ten years, I have read four of their winners. Richard Russo, Cormac McCarthy, Junot Diaz and Paul Harding. It also brought Jennifer Egan on my radar, which I meant to read for about a year now *. I looked up to them and followed their lead. They made the difficult choices whenever they needed to and brought deserving writers to national recognition. I like the Pulitzer, but obviously, somebody didn't put his shoulder into it, this year.
You have to understand. I'm a working class kid, coming from a very pragmatic upbringing. Actions had consequences. People had objectives they had to meet. We ate three square meals a day and all went to bed by 11 PM after a good daily dose of television. A no nonsense world. I soaked in there for nineteen years before walking into a literature department. Having a thing such as an award ceremony without a winner is a bit like suffocating inside a paper bag, don't you think? Even when there's no visible exit, it would be silly to give up instead of punching a hole through. I know this is a democratic process, but sometimes democracy needs a little kick in the ass, you know? Another discussion, another vote, staying an hour longer secluded to duke it out and debate the potential winner.
The best excuse I can imagine for that, is that the members of the jury wanted to come home for dinner. There has been plenty of good books published in 2011. Amy Waldman, Thea Obreht and Donald Ray Pollock could have been considered as well as the three finalists and I'm just going from the top of my head here. The jury should've looked at themselves in a mirror and asked themselves what it means to award a Pulitzer. They've been bringing international exposure to deserving writers for so long. Denis Johnson then, stood out as the perfect candidate. The man's been a working writer for three decades now and I have only first heard of him yesterday.His fans would've been all for it, but they all told me the same thing. He's an hermit that doesn't care about awards.
David Foster Wallace would've been an easy choice, but it would've betrayed a little bit the purpose the award has given itself over the last few decades. But still, a "lifetime achievement" winner is better than no winner at all. I don't know who Karen Russsell is and have only overheard of her novel, but she would've probably benefited the most from winning a Pulitzer. I'm not worried for her, though because the "Pulitzer Nominated" sticker will do wonder for her sales. She's young and will undoubtedly win many prizes and have a great career. I really think the person they had to reward this year was Denis Johnson. They didn't.
In the end, the biggest winner is the Pulitzer Prize committee themselves. Their credibility is taking a shot. What's so hard about giving a literary award? You lock a jury in and don't let them come out until they have a winner. 12 ANGRY MEN style. Meanwhile, I'm going back to my novels of moral turpitude and emotional violence. They are pragmatic and intelligible and while most of them might never win awards outside their own genre, it's the quest for the novel who will, that excites me. Donald Ray Pollock wrote that novel last year. Is there going to be one in 2012?
* I'm sure many readers who are as serious as be about it have their list of writers that gravitate on their radar but never manage to actually read.