I never considered my writing eligible for a Pulitzer Prize, and, as an erotic genre writer, I'm pretty sure it's not. What I find interesting, however, is that the Pulitzer committee decided none of the three novel finalists was eligible this year, either.
So, what makes a novel Pulitzer eligible? According the Pulitzer site, the qualifications are: "For distinguished fiction by an American author, preferably dealing with American life." So, the author needs to be American, preferably writing about American life, in a work that a committee would consider "distinguished fiction." I have a feeling the last point is the stickler. What exactly makes a piece of fiction "distinguished?"
If we look at some past winners, we can get an idea of the sort of fiction the Pulitzer committee considers up to their standard of excellence.
1921: The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton
1925: So Big by Edna Ferber
1932: The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck
1937: Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
1940: The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
1953: The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway
1961: To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
1980: The Executioner's Song by Norman Mailer
1983: The Color Purple by Alice Walker
1988: Beloved by Toni Morrison
1992: A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley
2011: A Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
An impressive list to be sure, though I primarily picked the ones that were familiar to me. The years in which fiction entered and nominated as finalists did not garner a Pulitzer are: 1917, 1920, 1941, 1946, 1954, 1957, 1964, 1971, 1974, 1977 and 2012. So, not giving out a Pulitzer isn't something new or shocking, I guess. Still, every year since 1977 the committee awarded a prize, which made me wonder why this year was an exception. Below is the list of the 2012 finalists, with a brief description of each story, posted at the Pulitzer site.
Nominated as finalists in this category were:
"Train Dreams," by Denis Johnson (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), a novella about a day laborer in the old American West, bearing witness to terrors and glories with compassionate, heartbreaking calm.
"Swamplandia!" by Karen Russell (Alfred A. Knopf), an adventure tale about an eccentric family adrift in its failing alligator-wrestling theme park, told by a 13-year-old heroine wise beyond her years.
"The Pale King," by the late David Foster Wallace (Little, Brown and Company), a posthumously completed novel, animated by grand ambition that explores boredom and bureaucracy in the American workplace.
I can't say I've read any of the books, so I'm no judge of their quality, but perhaps they just weren't interesting enough. A day laborer in the American West, a failing alligator-wrestling theme park and boredom and bureaucracy in the workplace may not be exciting enough when compared against the list of winners I selected. Only the members of the committee know for sure, and they won't say. Whatever the reason, I'm a little sad that none of the fiction entered was deemed worthy of a prize this year. Perhaps next year…