Every year Columbia University awards the Pulitzer Prizes for journalism and "letters" (includes literary works, music, and drama).
Any work that was published in 2011 in the United States may be submitted to the Pulitzer Committee. The books must be available for sale to the general public. E-books need not apply. For a majority of the categories the authors must be United States citizens.
Winners are selected by the Pulitzer Board. Winners in each category receive a $10,000 prize and priceless publicity. Here are a selection of the categories with the winners for 2012:
- History (United States history only): Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by Manning Marable.
- Biography: George F. Kennan: An American Life by John Lewis Gaddis
- Poetry: Life on Mars by Tracy K. Smith
- General Non-fiction: The Swerve: How the World Became Modern by Stephen Greenblatt
- Fiction: No award.
Yes, you read it right, no award for fiction. That did not mean that there were no finalists. The following books were in the running: Train Dreams by Denis Johnson, Swamplandia by Karen Russell, and The Pale King: An Unfinished Novel by David Foster Wallace.
Pulitzer deliberations are a well- kept secret, but writers and reporters have been trying to figure out what occurred.
One former juror and writer, Laura Miller, offered some insight into the selection process. The jurors are responsible for sorting through all the submissions. From the submitted works they select three recommended titles. However, it is the Pulitzer Board that makes the final call. The Board can select a title that is not on the list, but they rarely utilize that option.
Most members of the Pulitzer Board are journalists, so they are not as familiar with the literary world. They are well educated, however, and any book that they select sees an increase in sales and in prestige for the author. However, this year the group did not seem to be able to reach a majority.
Author Ann Patchett offered her own commentary in The New York Times. As both an writer and avid reader she was disappointed and angered by the lack of results.
Patchett says it best, “Reading fiction is important. It is a vital means of imagining a life other than our own, which in turn makes us more empathetic beings. Following complex story lines stretches our brains beyond the 140 characters of sound-bite thinking, and staying within the world of a novel gives us the ability to be quiet and alone, two skills that are disappearing faster than the polar icecaps.”
So while we will never know what happened behind closed doors, hopefully next year will see a winner.