Wednesday, July 18, 2012

How to Select Award-Winning Literature

One of my new life goals: become a fiction juror for the Pulitzer Prize.

Jurors get 300 free books! Sent directly to their homes!  And ultimately they get to, as novelist and 2012 Pulitzer Prize fiction juror Michael Cunningham says, “second-guess the future; to honor a book that will endure.”
photo by imagerymagestic

In a set of articles written for The New Yorker's blog, Cunningham discloses the process of narrowing down the year’s novels to just three choices to send to the Pulitzer Prize judges. The only official criteria for selecting a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel: “The winning book, be it a novel or short-story collection, must have been written by an American, and should, ideally, be in some way about American life. That’s it.”

He doesn’t have any extra insight as to why the judges didn’t select a book this year, but he does recognize it wasn’t an unprecedented event: “The Pulitzer board has denied a prize in fiction nine times before, most recently in 1977, when Norman Maclean’s “A River Runs Through It” was one of the candidates. The prizeless year 1974 was the year that “Gravity’s Rainbow” was eligible. It’s shortsighted. It’s offensive. And yet…”

The articles captivated me, not only with their descriptions of selecting prize-winning books, but with the way we read and rate literature in general.

For example:

“Utter objectivity, however, is not only impossible when judging literature, it’s not exactly desirable. Fiction involves trace elements of magic; it works for reasons we can explain and also for reasons we can’t.”

“One is not necessarily looking for perfection in a novel, or for the level of control that generally comes with more practice. One is looking, more than anything, for originality, authority, and verve…”

How do you evaluate whether or not a novel is brilliant, award-winning, or will “endure?”

More info on the 2012 Pulitzer non-Prize for Fiction.


Laurie said...

Wow. That's a subjective question. I can only answer that in the genres I enjoy reading. It's brilliant if it has not been done before or it's a completely new way to look at an old tale, but that last part is stretching it. The writing must be superb as well. Rich in prose, but not too heady that you have to keep coming back to it.
It's award winning for the same reasons and PLEASE don't just pick the politically correct subjects of the times. i.e. gender issues, catastrophies, drug and alcohol abuse.
An enduring read is one you can't put down, sorry when it ends and definitely going in a "reread" pile!

Anne Greenawalt said...

Like which books, for example, do you consider enduring?

None of my top picks would qualify for the Pulitzer because, I realized, most of my favorite books are written by Brits and Canadians!

A book I would have nominated in the recent past is Bright Shiny Morning by James Frey.

Laurie said...

Like Barbara Kingslover's Prodical Summer or Louise Erlich's Master Butcher's Singing Club