The Embarrassing Story of the 1917 Pulitzer Prize Decision

Novels published during the year 1917 were the first eligible books to be considered for the Pulitzer Prize, however Columbia University and its affiliates at the Pulitzer Board were not quite prepared to manage the Pulitzer process yet. Columbia’s Secretary and Provost, Frank Fackenthal, was the de facto administrator of the early Pulitzers, often serving as the liaison between Columbia’s Board of Trustees and the Pulitzer Advisory Board, as well as the Juries. In his later years, Frank won a special Pulitzer Prize for his service to Columbia in helping to launch the Pulitzer Prizes.

The early Pulitzer Jury members were apparently appointed by “the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the National Institute of Arts and Letters” (per The New York Times).

Apparently, the first Novel Jury received a mere six submissions in 1917 –one was ineligible, five were greatly disapproved of, and one was halfway decent. Under these circumstances the Jury recommended not awarding a Pulitzer Prize for the Novel and the Pulitzer Board at Columbia agreed. At the time, the Pulitzer Board consisted of ten men, primarily editors of various newspapers, such as the Associated PressBoston Globe, and the New York World. They suggested better advertisement was needed for the future of the award (even though I located several announcements for the Pulitzer Prizes in The New York Times archives 1916-1917).

Click here to return to my survey of the Pulitzer Prize Winners.

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