Michael Cunningham Explains What Happened With This Year’s Pulitzer Prize for Fiction

Like most people, we were incredibly surprised back in April when it was announced that this year’s Pulitzer Prize for Fiction would be awarded to nobody. Not David Foster Wallace for The Pale King. Not Karen Russell for Swamplandia! Not Denis Johnson for Train Dreams. Nobody! At the time we wrote that the three jurors had some serious explaining to do, but as it turns out, that’s not really the case. As Michael Cunningham explains in a fascinating new piece on The New Yorker’s website, the Pulitzer board’s deliberations are sealed, and they’re the ones who ultimately select a prize winner from the nominated titles.

“The members of the board can, if they’re unsatisfied with the three nominees, ask the jury for a fourth possibility,” he writes. “No such call was made… We were, all three of us, shocked by the board’s decision (non-decision), because we were, in fact, thrilled, not only by the books we’d nominated but by several other books that came within millimeters of the final cut. We never felt as if we were scraping around for books that were passable enough to slap a prize onto. We agreed, by the end of all our reading and discussion, that contemporary American fiction is diverse, inventive, ambitious, and (maybe most important) still a lively, and therefore living, art form.”

If you’re as curious as we are as to how short lists are determined — or at least how this particular short list was — head over to the Page-Turner blog to read his Letter from the Pulitzer Fiction Jury now.