The Pulitzer Fiction Debacle: What Really Happened

Juror Michael Cunningham: how they picked those books
By Neal Colgrass,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 15, 2012 5:00 PM CDT
The Pulitzer Fiction Debacle: What Really Happened
In this book cover image released by Little, Brown and Company, "The Pale King," by David Foster Wallace, is shown.   (AP Photo/Little, Brown and Company)

All three books were good, but none of them won the Pulitzer Prize. Fiction lovers know the story: David Foster Wallace's The Pale King, Denis Johnson’s Train Dreams, and Karen Russell's Swamplandia! were all rejected by this year's Pulitzer Prize Board. Now fiction juror Michael Cunningham is speaking up, calling the result "surprising and upsetting to any number of people, prominent among them the three fiction jurors." He writes in The New Yorker that the jury "submitted three finalists, each remarkable (or so we believed) in its own way."

First, the jurors. NPR book critic Maureen Corrigan "was drawn to writers who told a gripping and forceful story." Susan Larson, host of NPR's The Reading Life, "wanted to fall in love with a book." Cunningham "was the language crank, the one who swooned over sentences." He admits that all three submissions were "controversial," but he considered The Pale King powerfully written, Train Dreams an "exhilarating, magical depiction of ordinary life," and Swamplandia! an original debut. But the Pulitzer board made the final decision, and didn't even request another possible winner, writes Cunningham: "No such call was made." (More Pulitzer Prize stories.)

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