The Pulitzer Prize is kind of a big deal. Awarded yearly under the administration of Columbia University’s School of Journalism, it recognizes excellence in twenty-one categories of journalism and the arts, bringing deserved attention to a group of writers who spend much of their careers relatively unsung. (Ever strike you as odd that even the most highly acclaimed authors can go to Starbucks, the gym, their own book event, with no fanfare whatsoever, while the Disney channel person of the week can hardly go to the mailbox without a media frenzy? Think about it…)
So the publishing world was on the edge of its seat Monday afternoon, waiting for the 3:05 pm award announcement. Authors, agents, editors, and publicists all hoping for a career-making moment. The lists went up—and the internet exploded into anxious, wounded fury, because there was no prize awarded in fiction.
That’s right. No prize. The biggest award of the bunch, the one with the power to fuel book clubs for months, keep bookstores in the red, justify an editor’s next big buy…zip, zilch, nada. Before an hour had passed, links were flying around naming the three judges, who nominate the three finalists, and the list of jury members, who stalemated the fiction prize for the first time since 1977. Tweeters and bloggers ran their fingers ragged expressing their disappointment and analyzing what this means about—and for—publishing, American fiction, and reading itself.
But one good thing is tiptoeing around the edges of the firestorm: everyone is remembering just how important it is to acknowledge writers for their talent and hard work. The first reaction of most outraged interneters was to name books from 2011 that would merit a Pulitzer. Bookstores and book blogs gave out their own faux Pulitzers (follow hashtag #TwitterPulitzer to contribute yours!). Anyone could sit by the internet with a pen and paper and their To-Be-Read list would write itself. Publishers congratulated their winning authors in the other categories, and the three finalists are receiving a waterfall of praise from booksellers and fans; they may well see a little jump in sales and word-of-mouth marketing, even if not as much as the prize itself would have brought.
A prize of national standing is a big deal, and can bring a lot of extra opportunities. But perhaps its most important gift is that of affirmation—Hey writer, you’re good at this, and the sacrifices you made to bring your story to the world were worth it. Writing is a long and lonely pursuit. Winning an award says that every time you traded sleep for typing; every tear you shed letting go of favorite scenes in revision; every time you scraped together your ego after a rejection, and sent out the next query; every conversation you had about your book in a nearly empty bookstore; every blog tour you went on till your bum was numb…it was worth it. Your story is alive in the world. Readers love your book. You’re a writer. You’re an author.
And the great thing is, that’s encouragement we can give each other year round, published or aspiring, famous or undiscovered. Writers thrive on encouragement of any kind, no judge or jury needed. (Though the $10,000 prize money sure is nice.)
Let us know in the comments—what did YOU think of the Pulitzer kerfluffle ? What book do you remember most from 2011? What kind of motivation keeps you writing?
And if you want to give some encouragement RIGHT NOW, read and rate a few Page to Fame entries. Or just hug the next writer you see.