Pulitzer judges admit defeat in search for literary star

  • @guyadams

And the winner is... nobody. The publishing industry's annual search for its latest Great American Novel ended with a resounding thud after it emerged there will be no Pulitzer Prize for fiction for the first time in 35 years.

The board which presides over the prestigious awards failed to reach a required majority agreement on which of 2012's three shortlisted titles deserved to join the ranks of To Kill a Mockingbird and The Old Man and the Sea on its list of winning texts.

"Thus, after lengthy consideration, no prize was awarded," the prize's administrator, Sig Gissler, announced. "There were multiple factors involved in these decisions, and we don't discuss in detail why a prize is given or not given."

The decision has sparked a mixture of sombre chin-scratching and outright anger. To a publishing industry mired in commercial gloom, Pulitzers represent an increasingly rare opportunity to make stars of an author and create an overnight best-seller.

It was also criticised by the three judges who had waded through more than 340 novels to select three books worthy of being presented to the Pulitzer's board for consideration.

Susan Larson, one of the trio, said she was "shocked, angry and very disappointed" at the decision. "This was a lot of work," she said on NPR radio yesterday. "We would have been happy if any of [the three] books had been selected."

The titles Ms Larson and her two colleagues presented to the 20-strong board were The Pale King by David Foster Wallace, Karen Russell's Swamplandia and Denis Johnson's Train Dreams. To win, one of them needed support from a majority of the 18 voting journalists, academics and public intellectuals.

One reason for the lack of decision may have been the unconventional nature of the three shortlisted books. The Pale King was incomplete when Mr Foster Wallace committed suicide in 2008, and was pulled together from manuscripts. Train Dreams, a novella, was originally published in a magazine ten years ago, and so was not technically a new piece of fiction when it was released. Swamplandia was the only new and completed novel.

The board has failed to unite around a winner worthy to receive the $10,000 Fiction prize just 11 times in the 96-year history of the Pulitzers, which were established by the publisher Joseph Pulitzer to recognise excellence in American journalism, music, and literature.

It had better luck in selecting winners in this year's 20 other categories. Among the noteworthy recipients was Sara Ganim, 24, a newspaper reporter who broke the story of a sex abuse scandal at Penn State University.