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BLOG: Pulitzer board supports transparency — for others

Tom Jackson • Apr 17, 2012 at 4:27 PM

Book readers and the folks who cater to them are getting stirred up about the controversial decision not to award a Pulitzer Prize for fiction.

The three jurors on the fiction panel — Maureen Corrigan, Susan Larson and Michael Cunningham — read 300 books and whittled them down to three novels: "The Pale King" by the late David Foster Wallace, "Swamplandia!" by Karen Russell and "Train Dreams" by Denis Johnson.

The Pulitzer board was supposed to pick a winner from the three but instead chose not to award a Pulitzer for fiction. Board members have refused to comment, citing the confidentiality of board deliberations.

To add insult to injury, many people discussing the fiction decision initially blamed the three fiction jurors for the failure to award a prize. Corrigan and company have gone to the press to make it clear it wasn't their fault and that they are angry, too.

The Pulitzer board consists mostly of prominent journalists. They are experts on how everyone else on Earth should be transparent about making decisions that affect the public.

I tried emailing one of the Pulitzer board members, Ann Marie Lipinksi, a Pulitzer-winning journalist who is now curator at the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University. I wrote, "Do you guys plan to explain why a fiction Pulitzer wasn't awarded? It seems kind of unfair that the fiction jury is getting the blame."

I heard back not from Lipinski but from Sig Gessler, administrator of the prize and the board's spokesman. "We've tried to make it clear that the Pulitzer Board, not the jury, makes the final decision. We've also explained that, after extensive discussion, no entry was able to muster the mandatory majority for a prize. Multiple factors were involved. Beyond that, we do not discuss the deliberations, which are confidential."

Hoping to learn more about those "multiple factors," I tried Keven Ann Willey, editorial page editor for the Dallas Morning News and also a Pulitzer board member. She wrote back that Gessler is "handling all questions" about the decision.

Here is Willey's bio, which notes that she waged a successful four year campaign to force Texas lawmakers to publicly record their votes by name. Here is her opinion piece decrying politicians who don't answer questions from journalists.

Perhaps the best reaction to the fiction debacle came from syndicated columnist Connie Schultz, herself a Pulitzer winner (for commentary.) She Tweeted, "Just ordered Pulitzer finalists for fiction by #DenisJohnson #KarenRussell #DavidFosterWallace."

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