Sunday, May 06, 2012

What's In an Award? Thoughts on the Pulitzer Snub


This year, no Pulitzer Prize was awarded for fiction.  Three novels were nominated.  Some say this snub is as it should be, that nothing good enough is out there right now.  Some say this is a reflection of the Pulitzer Committee's elitist attitude.  Some think it's a result of the increasingly commercial emphasis in the publishing world at the expense of true literary quality.  Some say the committee just nominated the wrong stuff.

I couldn't help balking at this snub.  With all the writing out there in this digital explosion of the written word, was there really nothing worthy of the recognition of the Pulitzer Prize?  At a time when bookstores are going under and the possible death of the printed book haunts the horizon, is this the statement the committee wants to make?  My first reaction was "What a slap in the face to every writer working today!"

But it turns out this isn't the first time the committee refused to award a prize.  And there have been some pretty great books published during the years that no prize was awarded.  In fact, we humans have a long tradition of failing to recognize great work that is ultimately vindicated by posterity.  Tolkien's LORD OF THE RINGS was passed up for the Nobel Prize because of supposedly "second rate storytelling."  CITIZEN KANE didn't win a best picture Oscar.  The lesson here is that external validation has its limitations, and what readers and posterity ultimately recognize as valuable may never receive the establishment's stamp of approval.

So, write your story.  Then go ahead and throw your hat in the ring for whatever external validations are out there, but know they never tell the whole story.

4 comments:

  1. Has Gene Wilder ever won an Oscar? For anything? "Young Frankenstein"? "The Producers"? I'm with you!

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    1. Yeah. Meanwhile, MY COUSIN VINNIE cleaned up. And comedies in general win so rarely, as if they are somehow less worthy. Man, it takes talent to make people laugh in ways that stand the test of time.

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  2. ^for frickin' BLAZING SADDLES, too! If that wasn't Oscar-worthy, then the word's lost all meaning!

    No, but seriously - you are so right on, Ms. McGean. What saves my sanity in this whole writing business is the thought that books aren't like restaurant meals or football plays; you don't have an instant, objective assessment of them as soon as they're put out into the world. Just on the fantasy bookshelf, I know that the Hunger Games and Game of Thrones both entered the world to no great acclaim, even with several sequels following - and now there's movie deals and interviews and people are falling all over themselves to buy up these books that hardly anyone knew or cared about in the years first following their release.

    And yeah, I still marvel at how Citizen Kane lost to How Green Was My Valley - time sure told on that one!

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