Soooo…this is awkward, no? For the first time since 1977, no Pulitzer Prize was awarded for fiction. Ann Patchett says this means we all lose, and I agree. I’ve never thought very carefully about how books are selected for these kinds of big awards. I guess I imagined a bunch of really smart people passionately arguing with each other, but that doesn’t seem to be what happened here. The voting committee members filled out ballots, and no book got a majority of the votes, so nobody won. Look, we already have a completely dysfunctional Congress that operates on those principles, can’t we do a little better in the literary world? Here are some process suggestions for the Pulitzer Board to consider for next year:
- Have more voting members. Why should 18 people get to decide this prize of prizes?
- Treat it like you’re the Vatican choosing the next Pope. If there’s no consensus in the voting, hash it out and vote again. Lock the doors: no one leaves until someone has changed his or her mind.
- Give the prize to more than one book. I know this is radical, but the YA National Book Award debacle suggests to me that if prize committees screw up, or can’t decide between two fabulous books, maybe they should choose them BOTH. Our obsession with ranking things number one is exhausting. None of the books on the Pulitzer shortlist (The Pale King, Train Dreams, and Swamplandia!) are objectively “better” than any of the others. Loosen up, people. Let’s love as many things as we can.
Do you have any other suggestions for the Pulitzer Board? How should we choose the great fiction we celebrate?