Apr 10th 2014

Pulitzer Prize Preview: First a Rant, Then Some Predictions

by Scott Porch

Scott Porch is an attorney and writer in Savannah, Georgia. He has written for the Boston Globe, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and Salon.com. He is writing a book about the historical impact of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

First, a rant: Every year, the Pulitzer Prize Board announces the nominees and winners in mid-April. The nominees and winners are announced the same day. There is no Nominations Day followed a few weeks or months later by Announcement Day. There is only Announcement Day.

In each of four categories — fiction, history, biography, and nonfiction — there are three nominees, so 12 books will be nominated in all. And nine of them will be overshadowed by the four winners. (That is, if there are four winners; some years — like two years ago for fiction — the Board declines to pick a winner.)

The Man Booker Prize has long followed a practice of announcing a longlist, then paring that down to a shortlist, then announcing a winner. The National Book Awards, which have long announced the nominees before announcing the winners, added a longlist to the process last year.

The National Book Awards’ reason was exactly what you would expect: “Our mission is to increase the impact of great writing on American culture and these changes are concrete steps to further that mission,” David Steinberger, the chairman of the National Book Foundation’s board of directors and CEO of Perseus Book Group, saidin the announcement.

Would it kill the Pulitzers to announce the nominees a few weeks before the awards and shine a little more light on the nominees? Would that not have the added benefit to the Pulitzer Prizes of increasing their own exposure?

End rant.

Here’s a look at some of the major contenders for this years Pulitzer Prizes, which will be announced — nominees and winners alike — on April 14:

Fiction. The Pulitzer Prizes are the last major literary awards for books published the previous year. By the time the Pulitzer Prize Board votes, the newspaper best-books-of-the-year lists and the National Book Award nominees and winners have already been announced. That results most years in a winner that has already achieved a fair amount of critical consensus.

In my Pulitzer preview last year, I listed seven well-known, well-reviewed, on-all-the-lists novels as the favorites and five titles that were possibilities if the Pulitzer Prize Board picked something less obvious, including Adam Johnson’s The Orphan Master’s Son (Random House), which was the eventual winner.

There is no clear favorite this year, but three books have received the lion’s share of the praise: Rachel Kushner’s The Flamethrowers (Scribner), a kaleidoscope tale of art, politics, and motorcycles set in the 1970s; Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch (Little, Brown), a Dickensian epic and one of the year’s best selling literary novels; and George Saunders’ Tenth of December (Random House), the best collection of short stories to date from one of the masters of the form.

Beyond those three, it’s a wide-open race that includes James McBride’s The Good Lord Bird (Riverhead), Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah (Knopf), Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life (Reagan Arthur/Little, Brown), Philipp Meyer’s The Son (Ecco), Claire Messud’s The Woman Upstairs (Knopf), and Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Lowland (Knopf).

Given the Board’s heavy representation of journalists, the prevalence of Russian aggression in the news during the selection period, a strong critical reception, and the book’s setting in the Russian-Chechen conflict, Anthony Marra’s A Constellation of Vital Phenomena (Hogarth) is an underdog with potential.

Prediction: Rachel Kushner’s The Flamethrowers.

History. This was an especially strong year for history. Pulitzer rarely rings twice, but the big history titles were all by previous winners. Doris Kearns Goodwin’s The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism (Simon & Schuster), Rick Atkinson’s Guns at Last Light: The War in Western Europe, 1944-1945 (Henry Holt), and Lawrence Wright’s Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief (Knopf) are the sort of big, engrossing epics that the Pulitzer Prize Board often awards.

Gary J. Bass’s The Blood Telegram: Nixon, Kissinger and a Forgotten Genocide (Knopf) is a shocking story of the human toll of realpolitik in diplomacy that adds yet another facet to Nixon’s history. Brenda Wineapple’s Ecstatic Nation: Confidence, Crisis, and Compromise, 1848-1877 (Harper) is a gorgeously written cultural history of the Civil War era. Carla Kaplan’s Miss Anne in Harlem: The White Women of the Black Renaissance (Harper) is an illuminating look at the white women on the periphery of the Harlem Renaissance.

Prediction: Gary J. Bass’s The Blood Telegram: Nixon, Kissinger and a Forgotten Genocide.

Biography. Beyond A. Scott Berg’s Wilson (Putnam), and Victoria Wilson’s A Life of Barbara Stanwyck: Steel-True 1907-1940 (Simon & Schuster), 2013 was a thin year for big-name biographers and subjects. The most-praised biographies are Scott Anderson’s Lawrence in Arabia: War, Deceit, Imperial Folly and the Making of the Modern Middle East (Doubleday), Jill Lepore’s Book of Ages: The Life and Opinions of Jane Franklin (Knopf), and J.Michael Lennon’s Norman Mailer: A Double Life (Simon & Schuster).

Prediction: Sonia Sotomayor’s My Beloved World (Knopf), the Supreme Court justice’s memoir of her early life.

Nonfiction. The odds-on favorite is Sheri Fink’s Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital (Crown), her riveting, anguishing tale of a New Orleans hospital after Hurricane Katrina.

Other strong titles include Peter Baker’s Days of Fire: Bush and Cheney in the White House (Crown), David Finkel’s Thank You for Your Service (Sarah Crichton/Farrar, Straus & Giroux), George Packer’s The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America (Farrar, Straus & Giroux), which won the National Book Award.

I especially liked Jon Mooallem’s bouncy, personal Wild Ones: A Sometimes Dismaying, Weirdly Reassuring Story About Looking at People Looking at Animals in America (Penguin Press), and it would be nice to see the Pulitzer Prize Board recognize such a singular, original voice.

Prediction: Sheri Fink’s Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital (Crown).

This article was first posted on the Huffington Post. Posted here with the kind permission of the author.

This article was first posted on the Huffington Post. Posted here with the kind permission of the author.

Browse articles by author

More Essays

May 1st 2021
EXTRACT: " The sad reality is that the Mizrahim (Jews of Middle Eastern and North African descent) were discriminated against from the day of Israel’s inception, whose Ashkenazi (European Jewish) leaders viewed them as intellectually inferior, “backward,” and “too Arab,” and treated them as such, largely because the Ashkenazim agenda was to maintain their upper-class status while controlling the levers of power, which remain prevalent to this day." ..... " The greatest heartbreaking outcome is that for yet another generation of Israelis, growing up in these debilitating conditions has a direct effect on their cognitive development. A 2015 study published in Nature Neuroscience found that “family income is significantly correlated with children’s brain size…increases in income were associated with the greatest increases in brain surface area among the poorest children.” "
Apr 25th 2021
EXTRACT: "We all owe Farah Nabulsi an enormous debt of gratitude. In a short 24-minute film, The Present, she has exposed the oppressive indecency of the Israeli occupation while telling the deeply moving story of a Palestinian family. What is especially exciting is that after winning awards at a number of international film festivals​, Ms. Nabulsi has been nominated for an Academy Award for this remarkable work of art. " 
Apr 25th 2021
EXTRACT: "When I crashed to the floor of my home in Bordeaux recently after two months of Covid-19 dizziness, I was annoyed. The next day I collapsed again. Now I was worried. What I didn’t know was that my brain was sloshing around inside my skull, causing a mild concussion. Nor did I know that I was in for a whole new world of weird and wonderful hallucinations."
Apr 13th 2021
EXTRACT: "Overall, our review has found that there isn’t evidence to back up the claims that veganism is good for your heart. But that is partly because there are few studies ....... But veganism may have other health benefits. Vegans have been found to have a healthier weight and lower blood glucose levels than those who consume meat and dairy. They are also less likely to develop cancer, high blood pressure and diabetes. "
Apr 8th 2021
EXTRACT: "Pollock’s universe, the universe of Mural, cannot be said to be a rational universe. Nor is it simply devoid of all sense. It is not a purely imaginary world, although in it everything is in a constant state of flux. Mural invokes one of the oldest questions of philosophy, a question going back to the Pre-Socratic philosophers Parmenides and Heraclitus – namely, whether the nature of Reality constitutes unchanging permanence or constant movement and flux. For Pollock, the only thing that is truly unchanging is change itself. The only certainty is that all is uncertain."
Apr 8th 2021
EXTRACT: "Many present day politicians appear to have psychopathic and narcissistic traits too. It’s easy to spot such leaders, because they are always authoritarian, following hardline policies. They try to subvert democracy, to reduce the freedom of the press and clamp down on dissent. They are obsessed with national prestige, and often persecute minority groups. And they are always corrupt and lacking in moral principles."
Apr 6th 2021
EXTRACT: "This has led some to claim that not just half, but perhaps nearly all advertising money is wasted, at least online. There are similar results outside of commerce. One review of field experiments in political campaigning argued “the best estimate of the effects of campaign contact and advertising on Americans’ candidates choices in general elections is zero”. Zero!"
Mar 30th 2021
EXTRACT: "The Father is an extraordinary film, from Florian Zeller’s 2012 play entitled Le Père and directed by Zeller. I’m here to tell you why it is a ‘must see’." EDITOR'S NOTE: The official trailer is attached to the review.
Mar 28th 2021
EXTRACT: "Picasso was 26 in 1907, when he completed the Demoiselles; de Kooning was 48 in 1952, when he finished Woman I.  The difference in their ages was not an accident, for studies of hundreds of painters have revealed a striking regularity - the conceptual painters who preconceive their paintings, from Raphael to Warhol, consistently make their greatest contributions earlier in their careers than experimental painters, from Rembrandt to Pollock, who paint directly, without preparatory studies."
Mar 26th 2021
EXTRACT: "Mental toughness levels are influenced by many different factors. While genetics are partly responsible, a person’s environment is also relevant. For example, both positive experiences while you’re young and mental toughness training programmes have been found to make people mentally tougher."
Mar 20th 2021

The city of Homs has been ravaged by war, leaving millions of people homeless an

Mar 20th 2021
EXTRACT: "There are two main rival models of ethics: one is based on rights, the other on duties. The rights-based model, which traces its philosophical origins to the work of John Locke in the 17th century, starts from the assumption that individuals have rights ....... According to this approach, duties are related to rights, but only in a subordinate role. My right to health implies a duty on my country to provide some healthcare services, to the best of its abilities. This is arguably the dominant interpretation when philosophers talk about rights, including human rights." ........ "Your right to get sick, or to risk getting sick, could imply a duty on others to look after you during your illness." ..... "The pre-eminence of rights in our moral compass has vindicated unacceptable levels of selfishness. It is imperative to undertake a fundamental duty not to get sick, and to do everything in our means to avoid causing others to get sick. Morally speaking, duties should come first and should not be subordinated to rights." ..... "Putting duties before rights is not a new, revolutionary idea. In fact it is one of the oldest rules in the book of ethics. Primum non nocere, or first do no harm, is the core principle in the Hippocratic Oath historically taken by doctors, widely attributed to the ancient Greek philosopher and physician Hippocrates. It is also a fundamental principle in the moral philosophy of the Roman statesman Marcus Tullius Cicero, who in De Officiis (On Duties) argues that the first task of justice is to prevent men and women from causing harm to others."
Mar 18th 2021
EXTRACT: "Several studies have recently compared the difference between antibodies produced straight after a coronavirus infection and those that can be detected six months later. The findings have been both impressive and reassuring. Although there are fewer coronavirus-specific antibodies detectable in the blood six months after infection, the antibodies that remain have undergone significant changes. …….. the “mature” antibodies were better at recognising the variants."
Mar 15th 2021
EXTRACT: "Like Shakespeare, Goya sees evil as something existing in itself – indeed, the horror of evil arises precisely from its excess. It overflows and refuses to be contained by or integrated into our categories of reason or comprehension. By its very nature, evil refuses to remain within prescribed bounds – to remain fixed, say, within an economy where evil is counterbalanced by good. Evil is always excess of evil." ....... "Nowhere is this more evident than in war. Goya offers us a profound and sustained meditation on the nature of war ........ The image of a Napoleonic soldier gazing indifferently on a man who has been summarily hanged, probably by his own belt, expresses the tragedy of war – its dehumanization of both war’s victims and victors."
Mar 14th 2021
EXTRACT: "A blockchain company has bought a piece of Banksy artwork and burnt it. But instead of destroying the value of the art, they claim to have made it more valuable, because it was sold as a piece of blockchain art. The company behind the stunt, called Injective Protocol, bought the screen print from a New York gallery. They then live-streamed its burning on the Twitter account BurntBanksy. But why would anyone buy a piece of art just to burn it? Understanding the answer requires us to delve into the tricky world of blockchain or “NFT” art."
Mar 14th 2021
EXTRACT: "Exercise is good for your health at every age – and you can reap the benefits no matter how late in life you start. But our latest research has shown another benefit of being physically active throughout life. We found that in the US, people who were more physically active as teenagers and throughout adulthood had lower healthcare costs."
Mar 10th 2021
EXTRACT: "Although around one in 14 people over 65 have Alzheimer’s disease, there’s still no cure, and no way to prevent the disease from progressing. But a recent study may bring us one step closer to preventing Alzheimer’s. The trial, which was conducted on animals, has found a specific molecule can prevent the buildup of a toxic protein known to cause Alzheimer’s in the brain."
Feb 24th 2021
EXTRACT: "The art historian George Kubler observed that scholars in the humanities “pretend to despise measurement because of its ‘scientific’ nature.” As if to illustrate his point Robert Storr, former dean of Yale’s School of Art, declared that artistic success is “completely unquantifiable.” In fact, however, artistic success can be quantified, in several ways. One of these is based on the analysis of texts produced by art scholars, and this measure can give us a systematic understanding of how changes in recent art have produced changes in the canon of art history."
Feb 24th 2021
EXTRACT: "The most politically sensitive option we looked at was the virus escaping from a laboratory. We concluded this was extremely unlikely."
Feb 16th 2021
EXTRACT: ".... these men were completely unaware that they had put their lives in the hands of doctors who not only had no intention of healing them but were committed to observing them until the final autopsy – since it was believed that an autopsy alone could scientifically confirm the study’s findings. As one researcher wrote in a 1933 letter to a colleague, “As I see, we have no further interest in these patients until they die.” ...... The unquestionable ethical failure of Tuskegee is one with which we must grapple, and of which we must never lose sight, lest we allow such moral disasters to repeat themselves. "