Ilan Mochari
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BlogMay-June, 2012
4 other missteps in Pulitzer fiction prize history

What can anyone add to Ann Patchett's outstanding op/ed in the New York Times, tearing the committee a new one for not choosing a 2012 winner in fiction?

Namely this: The Pulitzer peeps -- and the nominating committees, for that matter -- have erred before.

A scan of previous winners and nominees tells you all you need to know. Some quick examples:

1. In 1937, Margaret Mitchell's Gone With the Wind was the winner. Talk about a joke. Mitchell's thick-as-a-brick yawner should be used as a textbook at the Iowa Writers' Workshop for why it's kind of important to show instead of tell. It's also totally racist. The day will come when the Pulitzer peeps retract this award.

2. 1977. Another year the Pulitzer peeps didn't pick a winner. Which is startling, when you consider the list of books that came out in 1976. My nominees would've been Ordinary People, Will You Please Be Quiet, Please and 1876. Of course, 1977 and 2012 aren't the only years of Pulitzer abstention. There were also no winners in 1971, 1964, 1957, 1954, 1946, 1941, 1920 and 1917.

3. In 1996, Richard Ford's Independence Day beat out Philip Roth's Sabbath's Theater. I cannot think of a single aesthetic principle -- including sheer enjoyment -- under which Ford's book is better than Roth's. If you can enlighten me, I'd love to hear about it in the comments. I remember when this was announced in 1996, my first thought was, "Well, this is what you get when you have a bunch of journalists judging a bunch of novelists."

4. In 1984, Gore Vidal's Lincoln was not nominated. In 1987, James Ellroy's The Black Dahlia was not nominated. In 1988, Don DeLillo's Libra was not nominated. What makes these snubs more startling is that each book is the consummate piece of Americana, which matters, according to the Pulitzer's vaguely worded criteria. When someone asks me for a great book of American historical fiction, I invariably name one of these three. Granted: The winners in 1988 (Beloved) and 1984 (Ironweed) were also elite works of American historical fiction. But all I'm questioning here are nominations. One of the 1988 nominations, for example, was That Night by Alice McDermott. It's a good book, but it's not in the same stratosphere as Libra. Likewise, Raymond Carver's Cathedral: You'd never take arms against it, but it's light years behind Lincoln as a literary achievement..


Ilan Mochari is the author of the novel Zinsky the Obscure (Fomite Press, 2012). His short stories have appeared or are forthcoming in Keyhole, Stymie, Ruthie's Club and Oysters & Chocolate.
In 2009, he received a Literature Artist Fellowship grant from the Somerville Arts Council. He is a former staff writer for Inc, and he has also written for Fortune Small Business and CFO. He has a B.A. in English from Yale University.

 
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Ilan Mochari