The year 2012 was tremendously controversial for the Pulitzer Prize. It was the first year since 1977 that no award was issued, despite the Jurors offering several quality recommendations (previously in 1977 the Pulitzer Advisory Board denied Norman MacLean the Pulitzer for his memoir, A River Runs Through It).
The three Fiction Jurors in 2012 were: Michael Cunningham, author of The Hours which won the Pulitzer in 1999; Maureen Corrigan, the book critic on NPR’s “Fresh Air” and a professor of English at Georgetown University; and Susan Larson, the former book editor of the New Orleans Times-Picayune and host of “The Reading Life” on NPR.
While approaching the task from different perspectives, the three jurors were able to find common ground among the hoards of novels submitted for the Pulitzer each year. After reviewing hundreds of novels, the Jury narrowed it down to three finalists and confidently sent them along to the Pulitzer Advisory Board for final approval. The nominees in 2012 were: David Foster Wallace’s unfinished novel, The Pale King; Denis Johnson’s turn of the nineteenth century western, Train Dreams; and Karen Russell’s debut novel about an eccentric Southern family, Swamplandia! However, when the Pulitzer Advisory Board made its annual prize announcements in April 2012, they revealed there would be no Fiction winner. The decision caused shockwaves throughout the literary world, not least of which among the three Fiction Jurors. Generally speaking, the deliberations of the Pulitzer Advisory Board are kept confidential, however the three Fiction Jurors in 2012 publicly declared their disappointment in a New Yorker article penned by Michael Cunningham. Perhaps one day, years from now, we will learn the truth behind the 2012 Pulitzer Prize decision.