April 16, 2013

Pulitzer Prize/Morning News Tournament of Books winners for 2013


Your prize, sir.

Fear not, booksellers. The Pulitzer committee did not withhold its fiction prize this year. But this is a critical marker in the history of the prize: [SPOILER ALERT] it’s the fourth time The Morning News Tournament of Books has come up with the same winner as the Pulitzer committee.

The first was Cormac McCarthy, who won both awards for The Road in 2007; Junot Diaz then won both for The Brief, Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao the following year. The prizes didn’t link up again until Jennifer Egan won both in 2011 for A Visit From the Goon Squad. This year, Adam Johnson wins for The Orphan Master’s Son.

Though I don’t always agree with the nominees or the winners of each year’s tournament, I’ve always admired The Morning News Tournament for its judges, who are very honest about the way their personal biases are affecting their choices. If you haven’t read it yet, you’ll enjoy the mission statement (well, “about” page) of the Morning News Tournament of Books:

Note that the arbitrary nature of this contest does not make it more random than other book awards. For all their diligence and secrecy, book awards rely on the particular tastes of a very few individuals combined with the art of compromise. Not only can book awards not tell you what the best book of the year is, frequently the winner of a book award is not anyone’s actual favorite, but rather not anyone’s least favorite.

What the Rooster stands for is not definitiveness, but transparency. Transparency and fun. You will know who is judging, what their biases are, and why they make their decisions. You can follow along as each contender is passed from reader to reader and judgments are handed down, sometimes passionately, sometimes haphazardly (and sometimes, in the case of Dale Peck in 2006, not at all). We have had judges who admitted they didn’t finish their books. We’ve had Rooster winners who came back as judges the next year, on the condition that we commission for them an aggressive T-shirt. And yes, we’ve had judges who flipped coins. So has the National Book Award—but the National Book Award won’t tell you that.

I think the stakes may be getting higher for this prize, based on its record. But for now, it’s still a satirical game based on a drunken bet. Albeit a drunken bet that is in the recent habit of predicting Pulitzer Prize winners.

Morning News Tournament of Books winners:

Pulitzer Prize winners for fiction since 2005:

Winners of the Pulitzer Prize are awarded $10,000 cash award and a certificate. Winners of The Morning News Tournament of Books are awarded a live rooster. I think we all know which one is more desirable. This year, lucky Adam Johnson takes home both. (Well, if he chooses to. No Morning News Tournament winner has yet claimed his or her rooster.)

More importantly, what will happen in the tenth year of the prize? Will the judges’ tastes align for a fifth time?

Kirsten Reach is an editor at Melville House.