It was a slap in the face that resonated throughout the literary world. In 2012 the Pulitzer board decided not to award a prize for a fictional novel published in 2011 - the first time in 35 years. How could this happen? Just who are these Pulitzer Prize judges? With many fans of fiction still fuming, perhaps I can shed some light on the Pulitzer process, and in case the judges need a little prodding for this year's prize possibilities, I can offer up some suggestions.
Pulitzer Prizes are awarded each year in a variety of categories. Each category has a board of jurors nominated by Pulitzer judges. That group of jurors is responsible for nominating three pieces of work, e.g., novels as in the case of fiction, that they feel are worthy of the prestigious Pulitzer Prize. The judges then read these selections and determine a winner. In 2012 the three books presented to the judges were Karen Russell's "Swamplandia," "The Pale King" by David Foster Wallace and "Train Dreams" by Denis Johnson. After two days of deliberation the judges did not feel that any of these selections warranted a prize.
You can be sure that this year's fiction board members will be more vigilant in their selections. Just in case they need help, I am offering my top choices. The award of $10,000 goes to an American author whose work deals with American life. "The Orchardist," written by Amanda Coplin, takes place primarily in the Pacific Northwest, where Coplin was born and still lives. From the very first page I immediately had flashbacks to Anne Proulx's "The Shipping News," the 1994 Pulitzer winner. "His face was as pitted as the moon ... . He had already taken on the barrel-chested sturdiness of an old man. His ears were elephantine ... they had darkened like the rest of his sun-exposed flesh ... and were tough, the flesh granular like the rind of some fruit."
Another possibility is Kevin Powers' "The Yellow Birds." Powers served as a machine gunner in the US Army during the war against Iraq. Although his novel is fiction, it is as if we are reading the pages of Powers' personal war journal. Powers' novel censors none of the horrifying images of war, and yet it is his character's battles with psychological demons that haunt us. "Or should I have said that I wanted to die, not in the sense of wanting to throw myself off of that train bridge over there, but more like wanting to be asleep forever because there isn't any making up for killing women ... or for that matter killing men and shooting them in the back more times than necessary ... and it was like just trying to kill everything you saw sometimes because it felt like there was acid seeping down into your soul and then your soul is gone ... but really it doesn't matter because by the end you failed at the one good thing you could have done, the one person you promised would live is dead."
Several other books are also worthy of nomination. Charlotte Rogan's "The Lifeboat" is an adventurous tale of emotions and ethics between passengers stranded on a lifeboat at sea for three weeks. "The Art Forger" by B.A. Shapiro reveals the covert underworld of art forgery. And we cannot ignore the blockbuster success of Gillian Flynn's hypnotically disturbing "Gone Girl."
Let's hope that the Pulitzer judges don't snub the 2012 fiction nominees since there are plenty of excellent possibilities. So head over to your Summit County Library and make your own determinations.