I was ruminating a bit about the Pulitzer Prize this week and wondering why it isn’t a bigger deal. The bookstore I worked at in Los Angeles may not be indicative of national trends, but while I was there, the Booker Prize and the National Book Award moved more books than the Pulitzer. (The Nobel Prize had a bigger impact on sales than all the other awards combined, believe it or not.) I think part of the reason that the Pulitzer fails to capture the interest of readers is that it’s much less controversial than other awards. Pulitzer winners are almost always safe picks. But part of it, I think, is that the award has no build up. The judges do not announce the nominees (aka the shortlist) in advance, instead the finalists are revealed at the same time as the winner. It’s pretty obvious that having a shortlist would build interest – some might say artificially – by placing the prize in the public eye for longer. But I’d argue that the Pulitzer is worthy of this treatment. Though the picks are often safe, taken together, the Pulitzer winners are an incomplete, but still compelling bunch of books. The Pulitzers are primarily a journalism award, and that, I think, matters too, in that it allows us to equate the novel with journalism, which, at its best, is meant to be a noble and unfrivolous pursuit. (And this isn’t just the J-school grad in me talking.) Finally, giving the Pulitzer a shortlist would just be more fun and it would give us book bloggers more to natter on about.
The IMPAC Award shortlist was announced today. The IMPAC sets itself apart with its unique approach. Its massive longlist is compiled by libraries all over the world before being whittled down by judges. This makes for a more egalitarian selection. It’s also got a long lead time. Books up for the current prize (to be named June 15th) were all published in 2009, putting the IMPAC more than a year behind other big literary awards. There’s a distinct upside in this. By now, nearly all the shortlisted books are available in paperback in the U.S. The IMPAC also tends to be interesting for the breadth of books it considers.This year’s shortlist is typically eclectic, representing four countries and ranging from bestsellers, to relative unknowns.Galore by Michael Crummey (excerpt, At The Millions, Michael Crummey’s “Whale Music“)The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver (excerpt, In his Year in Reading, Sam Anderson suggests some edits.)The Vagrants by Yiyun Li(excerpt, At The Millions, Yiyun Li on Per Petterson)Ransom by David Malouf (excerpt)Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann (excerpt, A Millions Hall of Famer)Little Bird of Heaven by Joyce Carol OatesJasper Jones by Craig Silvey (excerpt)Brooklyn by Colm Toibín (excerpt, Edan’s Year in Reading)Love and Summer by William Trevor (excerpt)After the Fire, a Still Small Voice by Evie Wyld (excerpt)
The Nobel Prize for Literature has been awarded to the 56-year-old German writer Herta Müller. Müller is the author of 19 books. Not all of them have been translated into English and only a handful are anywhere close to being in print. The Prize committee said Müller, “with the concentration of poetry and the frankness of prose, depicts the landscape of the dispossessed.” Müller was born in Romanian and emigrated to Germany in 1987. Her first books were published only in censored versions in Romania. The Nobel’s “bio-bibliography” has more.
It’s not easy at present to get a hold of a book by Müller in the U.S., but doubtless her works that have been translated into English will come back into print quickly. The Appointment was published by Metropolitan books and The Passport by Serpents Tail. Nadirs was brought out by the University of Nebraska Press, and Northwestern University Press put out The Land of Green Plums and Traveling on One Leg. The latter two are technically in print right now though I wouldn’t expect hardly any bookstore to actually have them on the shelves.
With the awarding of the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, the 2009/2010 literary award season is now over, which gives us the opportunity to update our list of prizewinners.
Though literary prizes are arbitrary in many ways, our prizewinners post is compiled in the same spirit that one might tally up batting titles and MVPs to determine if a baseball player should be considered for the Hall of Fame. These awards nudge an author towards the “canon” and secure them places on literature class reading lists for decades to come.
There are two books climbing the ranks this year. With an impressive showing with the judges, Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall has become something of an instant classic, landing near the top of the list and in very good company. Meanwhile, the IMPAC shortlist nod puts Marilynn Robinson’s Home side-by-side with her much praised Gilead from 2004.
Here is our methodology:
I wanted to include both American books and British books, as well as the English-language books from other countries that are eligible to win some of these awards. I started with the National Book Award and the Pulitzer from the American side and the Booker and Costa from the British side. Because I wanted the British books to “compete” with the American books, I also looked at a couple of awards that recognize books from both sides of the ocean, the National Book Critics Circle Awards and the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award. The IMPAC is probably the weakest of all these, but since it is both more international and more populist than the other awards, I thought it added something. The glaring omission is the PEN/Faulkner, but it would have skewed everything too much in favor of the American books, so I left it out.
I looked at these six awards from 1995 to the present, awarding three points for winning an award and two points for an appearance on a shortlist or as a finalist. Here’s the key that goes with the list: B=Booker Prize, C=National Book Critics Circle Award, I=International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, N=National Book Award, P=Pulitzer Prize, W=Costa Book Award [formerly the Whitbread] bold=winner, red=New to the list or moved up* the list since last year’s “Prizewinners” post
*Note that the IMPAC considers books a year after the other awards do, and so this year’s IMPAC shortlist nods were added to point totals from last year.
11, 2003, The Known World by Edward P. Jones – C, I, N, P
9, 2001, The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen – C, I, N, P
8, 2009, Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel – B, C, W
8, 2007, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz – C, P, I
8, 1997, Underworld by Don DeLillo – C, I, N, P
7, 2005, The March by E.L. Doctorow – C, N, P
7, 2004, Line of Beauty by Alan Hollinghurst – B, C, W
7, 2002, Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides – I, N, P
7, 2001, Atonement by Ian McEwan – B, C, W
7, 1998, The Hours by Michael Cunningham – C, I, P
7, 1997, Last Orders by Graham Swift – B, I, W
7, 1997, Quarantine by Jim Crace – B, I, W
6, 2009, Home by Marilynn Robinson – C, N, I
6, 2005, The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai – B, C
6, 2004, Gilead by Marilynn Robinson – C, P
5, 2008, The Secret Scripture by Sebastian Barry – B, W
5, 2008, Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout – C, P
5, 2007, Tree of Smoke by Denis Johnson – N, P
5, 2006, The Road by Cormac McCarthy – C, P
5, 2006, The Echo Maker by Richard Powers – N, P
5, 2005, Europe Central by William T. Vollmann – C, N
5, 2005, The Accidental by Ali Smith – B, W
5, 2004, The Master by Colm Toibin – B, I
5, 2003, The Great Fire by Shirley Hazzard – I, N
5, 2001, True History of the Kelly Gang by Peter Carey – B, I
5, 2000, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon – C, P
5, 2000, The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood – B, I
5, 1999, Waiting by Ha Jin – N, P
5, 1999, Disgrace by J.M. Coetzee – B, C
5, 1999, Being Dead by Jim Crace – C, W
5, 1998, Charming Billy by Alice McDermott – I, N
5, 1997, American Pastoral by Philip Roth – C, P
5, 1996, Every Man for Himself by Beryl Bainbridge – B, W
5, 1996, Martin Dressler: The Tale of an American Dreamer by Steven Millhauser – N, P
5, 1995, The Moor’s Last Sigh by Salman Rushdie – B, W
5, 1995, The Ghost Road by Pat Barker – B, W
5, 1995, Independence Day by Richard Ford – C, P
5, 1995, Sabbath’s Theater by Philip Roth – N, P
The annual MacArthur “Genius” Fellows have been named. This award gives people from diverse fields $500,000 with “no strings attached,” for “exceptional creativity, as demonstrated through a track record of significant achievement, and manifest promise for important future advances.” There are typically a handful of literary types among the scientists, artists, and musicians who become Fellows. This year, by my count, there are three.Stuart Dybek, as a highly regarded short story writer and novelist, is the best-known among them. When most people think of Dybek, they think of Chicago, where much of his writing is set. He’s also the writer in residence at nearby Northwestern University. I haven’t read any Dybek, but when I do, I’ll likely start with The Coast of Chicago or I Sailed with Magellan.Peter Cole is co-founder and co-editor of Ibis Editions, “a small press and non-profit organization founded in Jerusalem in 1998 and dedicated to the publication of Levant-related books of poetry and belletristic prose. The press publishes translations from Hebrew, Arabic, Greek, French, and the other languages of the region. New writing is published, though special attention is paid to overlooked works from the recent and distant past.” Among Cole’s more recent efforts is The Dream of the Poem: Hebrew Poetry from Muslim and Christian Spain, 950-1492Lynn Nottage is a Brooklyn-based playwright. According to the Hartford Courant, “Nottage is developing a workshop production at Chicago’s Goodman Theater of ‘Ruined,’ set in a mining town in the Congo rainforest. She recently workshopped another new play for the Roundabout Theatre Company in New York, an adaptation of slave narratives for the stage. She is also working on a children’s musical ‘Sweet Billy and the Zulus’ for the Philadelphia-based touring company, Colored Girl Productions.” Her most recently published plays are Intimate Apparel and Fabulation.