Pulitzer fiction award withheld, book lovers unhappy

Reuters, Wednesday 18 Apr 2012

Disappointed book lovers and the publishing world lash out at the refusal to declare a Pulitzer fiction prize winner this year, saying it will hurt book sales and give the impression that 2011 was a bad year for novels


Monday's lack of a decision by the Pulitzer board could also hurt an industry accused of fixing prices for e-books, critics said. It was the first time since 1977 that no fiction winner was chosen for the prestigious awards that usually spells guaranteed free publicity and a boost in sales for the author who wins as well as their publisher.

The authors who missed out on a Pulitzer were Denis Johnson for his novella "Train Dreams", Karen Russell for "Swamplandia!" and the late David Foster Wallace for "The Pale King," which was published last year from notes he left when he died in 2008.

"Every publisher in America would agree that it is a missed opportunity," Paul Bogaards, director of publicity at Alfred A. Knopf that published "Swamplandia!" said. He cited the tenfold sales boost for previous winner Jennifer Egan and her book "A Visit From the Goon Squad". "It has a demonstrable effect on sales, especially in the fiction category," Bogaards told Reuters.

Some smaller booksellers, already coping with a decline in print sales and switch to e-books, took to Twitter. The Boulder Book Store in Colorado tweeted, "What?!?! There's NO Pulitzer Prize for Fiction this year? How can this be?"

The fiction category is selected by a three member panel that reviews hundreds of books and sends three finalists to the Pulitzer board for a decision. Pulitzer administrator Sig Gissler called the lack of a fiction winner "unusual" but said none of the three entries received a majority of board votes.

"I can say that multiple factors were involved. Beyond that, we do not discuss the deliberations, which are confidential," he said in an email. "We realize that the lack of an award in Fiction is a disappointment to many. We regret that. But I can assure you that the Board made a considered decision."

Chairwoman of the Pulitzer fiction panel Susan Larson told National Public Radio that the jurors had read some 300 books and were "shocked ... angry ... and very disappointed" that the Pulitzer board couldn't pick a winner."I think we all would have been happy if any of [the three] books had been selected," she said.

Other commentators and book sellers said readers would wrongly assume that it had been a weak year for fiction. 

Ann Patchett, author of "Bel Canto" and a founder of Parnassus Books, criticized the effect on the industry, coupled with a Justice Department lawsuit against Apple and five major publishers that will likely to lead to cheaper e-books and a dent in publishers' profits. "I can't imagine there was ever a year we were so in need of the excitement it creates in readers," Patchett wrote in an op-ed piece for Tuesday's New York Times.

Several major publishers, including HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster and the Penguin Group, declined or did not return a query seeking to comment.

Michael Pietsch of Little, Brown and Company, who edited "The Pale King," said, "Anything that brings readers to David's brilliant novels, especially his great novel 'Infinite Jest,' is a good thing!" Others tweeted their amusement, including "American Psycho" author Bret Easton Ellis who commented: "The funniest thing I've heard in weeks: there's no Pulitzer prize for fiction this year."

Bogaards noted that the Pulitzers offer more publicity than any other American award for fiction because of the blanket media coverage of the awards, which also honor journalism."It's as much a function of coverage as cache," he said, promising he would put a nominee sticker on "Swamplandia!"

Non-fiction books that won Pulitzers on Monday included "The Swerve: How the World Became Modern" by Stephen Greenblatt, "George F. Kennan: An American Life" by John Lewis Gaddis and "Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention" by the late Manning Marable. Chosen by juries in categories across journalism, books, drama and poetry, each winner receives $10,000. 


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