When the 2012 Pulitzer Prizes were announced this week, no award was presented for fiction. Bewildered fans of fiction such as myself could find no sufficient explanation. Juror Maureen Corrigan wrote in the Washington Post that she and her two co-jurors "have heard only the same explanation that everyone else has heard: The board could not reach a majority vote on any of the novels.” An explanation so lame, so absolutely devoid of effort, that it smells to me like a cover-up.
I wouldn’t be surprised if the eighteen board members were too busy with Columbian prostitutes to pick a winner. What happens to the $10,000 prize? More prostitutes?
The conspiracy theorist in me suspects a hidden motive of ill will toward publishers of fiction. Novels have perhaps sold too well this past year, and it’d be extravagant, even congratulatory, for one book to get the extra sales boost that inevitably results from the Pulitzer stamp. We can still award poetry because poetry needs the help, but those uppity fiction bitches can suck it.
As suspicious as such negligent behavior is, this has happened before. The last year no prize was awarded in fiction was 1977. No prize was awarded in 1974 or 1971 either. Do these years have any special significance? Was fiction just too good for one book to stand out? Maybe these years were more somber than others (Vietnam and the death of Elvis come to mind); maybe they were so distraught that prizes and celebrations seemed inappropriate. Sorry, Denis Johnson, but we don’t have the energy to anoint Train Dreams because we’re too sad about the Republican primaries.
What if Karen Russell’s Swamplandia! was the top choice but the board thought that exclamation point was just too enthusiastic in the face of the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic? Maybe David Foster Wallace, whose unfinished novel The Pale King was also a finalist, is haunting all of the board members. Or simply confusing them by adding footnotes to each eligible novel by means of his awesome ghost powers.
One last thing to consider. The Pulitzer Prize in fiction is “For distinguished fiction by an American author, preferably dealing with American life.” Maybe the board doesn’t believe in America. Maybe it’s American life, rather than fiction, that can’t get a majority vote.