The Odd Story of the 1919-1920 Pulitzer Prize for the Novel

When the Pulitzer Prize committee met in 1919 for the award for best Novel, they hastily exchanged telegrams and letters, and nominated Booth Tarkington’s The Magnificent Ambersons at the last minute. They initially reached a “reluctant” conclusion that no novel was deserving of the award, however shortly before the announcement was released one of the jury members wrote to the advisory board to ask if it was too late to nominate Booth Tarkington’s book. The advisory board agreed by telegram, and decided that it would be best to give out an award than none at all.

In 1920, one new juror was added to the jury and this led to confusion regarding Mr. Pulitzer’s revised estate which initially read “whole atmosphere of American life…” instead of “wholesome” – the latter was revised by the committee to make the award more of an ethical award. They initially wanted to give the award to Stuart P. Sherman for Java Head decided it did not fit the “wholesome” character of America. Thus, Pulitzer Prize for the Novel was not awarded in 1920.

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