John Heaton (jheaton) wrote,
John Heaton

I am beginning to doubt my status as a literary tastemaker

The 2013 Pulitzer Prizes have been announced, and yet again the letters and drama awards went to works I have not read. I am beginning to doubt my status as a literary tastemaker.

The fact is, the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction has gone to a book I read in advance of it winning the Pulitzer exactly once, in 2002, when it went to Richard Russo for Empire Falls. I'd discovered Russo -- or, perhaps more accurately, had him brought to my attention -- in 1997, with the release of the novel that preceded Empire Falls, Straight Man, which is my favorite of his novels. I'd gone on to read the rest of his oeuvre, so when Empire Falls came out, I read it pretty much as soon as it was available.

There are a few other favorite authors of mine who write the kinds of books that get considered for Pulitzer Prizes -- Glen David Gold, Michael Chabon, Tom Perrotta, perhaps Michael Lewis -- but so far I haven't gotten lucky again. Oh well.

Speaking of the kinds of books that get considered for Pulitzer Prizes, or rather the opposite of such, college pal Torsten mentioned on Facebook that he was disappointed comics artist Chris Ware didn't get a Pulitzer citation. As a fan of the medium, I guess I am too, to some small degree, but I have to say the idea of Ware getting a Pulitzer citation never even crossed my mind, nor would it have so crossed if I'd given any thought to the question of who might win a Pulitzer this year. And if I'd been asked if I thought Ware might be so cited, I would have laughed at the person asking the question. Look, I like comics, and I believe it's just as valid a literary medium as prose, poetry, or drama. But I sure as hell don't think the Pulitzer board thinks that, the special citation awarded to Art Spiegelman's Maus in 1992 notwithstanding. As I said to Torsten:

I remember an SNL Weekend Update segment many years ago in which Bill Murray did Oscar predictions; he pointed out Steven Spielberg was receiving the Thalberg Award, and added, "This means the Academy will never, ever have to give Steven Spielberg a real Oscar." I think the citation for Maus was to the comics medium what the Thalberg Award was to Spielberg, and while Spielberg did eventually win some real Oscars, I'd put money on the Pulitzer board being even stodgier and change-resistant than the Academy.

Even if a comic ever does win a Pulitzer again, I have my doubts that it'd go anything like the sort of thing Chris Ware does. If I were to put money on it, I'd say it's likely to go to an autobiographical work, like Alison Bechdel's Fun Home or Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis. There's a remote chance a work of non-fiction like Joe Sacco's Footnotes in Gaza could win the General Non-Fiction prize, but I have my doubts.

Comics are honored on the journalistic side, though, and the award this year went to Steve Sack of the Star Tribune. He's good! I particularly like this one:

Editorial cartoon by Steve Sack

But I didn't any dogs or hackwork among his cartoons posted on the Pulitzer website, so I'd say it was a well-deserved prize.

Also of note among the journalism awards was the Feature Writing prize, which was given to John Branch of The New York Times for his article "Snow Fall: The Avalanche at Tunnel Creek," which, unlike any of the letters and drama winners, I had read. In fact, I'd read both the finalists as well: "Never Let Go," by Kelly Benham of the Tampa Bay Times; and "Life of a salesman: Selling success, when the American dream is downsized," by Eli Saslow of The Washington Post. All three of them are excellent, especially the Benham, so make sure you check those out.

Tags: author: richard russo, awards: pulitzers, editorial cartoons, reading: books, reading: comic books, reading: periodicals

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