This year no one won the coveted Pulitzer Prize for non-fiction. Sure there were Pulitzer Prizes for other genres. In poetry, feature writing, commentary, criticism and several types of reporting. The Philadelphia Inquirer received a Pulitzer “For a distinguished example of meritorious public service by a newspaper or news site through the use of its journalistic resources…etc.” The citation noted that the award was specifically for the newspaper’s “exploration of pervasive violence in the city’s schools, using powerful print narratives and videos to illuminate crimes committed by children against children…” And if you were handing out Pulitzer prizes you too would get to use language such as “meritorious” and “illuminate crimes.”
In any case, it seems the Pulitzer jury found it easier to come to agreement on the elements that constitute greatness in reporting, commentary and poetry than it did for fiction. A member of the group wrote about the agony of picking a fictional work that deserved the “greatness” title. How do you look at all the eligible novels and choose the one – The greatest novel of the year? A work of fiction is rarely as compelling as say, the reporting on the Jerry Sandusky case, which incidentally did win an award for the Harrisburg Patriot news staff.
Overall, greatness can be an elusive thing. Additionally, a great work whether it’s a piece of fiction or a newly developed product is often not evident until it has stood the test of time – or some other test. As it turns out, “The Great Gatsby,” “Deliverance,” and “Ragtime” are among memorable works that did not win the Pulitzer in the years when they were eligible. Beyond the Pulitzer Prize of 2012, the question of what makes one thing great and remarkable is an interesting one to consider. Do we know it in our guts when we see it? Do we wait for the marketplace to decide? And does it even matter?