April 15, 2014
Donna Tartt wins the 2014 Pulitzer Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for The Goldfinch
by Alex Shephard
The 2014 Pulitzer Prize winners were announced at Columbia University yesterday afternoon. A number of big names won in the Journalism category—most notably the Washington Post and the Guardian for their coverage of NSA spying—but let’s be real: the only category that matters is Books.*
The winners in that category were:
Fiction: The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt (Little, Brown)
History: The Internal Enemy: Slavery and War in Virginia, 1772-1832 by Alan Taylor (W.W. Norton)
Biography/Autobiography: Margaret Fuller: A New American Life by Megan Marshall (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
Poetry: 3 Sections by Vijay Seshadri (Graywolf Press)
General Nonfiction: Toms River: A Story of Science and Salvation by Dan Fagin (Bantam Books)
Donna Tartt, who won for the 7900 page novel The Goldfinch, has received most of the attention. The Pulitzer Committee originally tweeted that The Goldfish, a less flashy title for what would probably be a better book, had won, but made up for their mistake by describing the book as, “a beautifully written coming-of-age novel with exquisitely drawn characters that follows a grieving boy’s entanglement with a small famous painting that has eluded destruction, a book that stimulates the mind and touches the heart.” The reaction on Twitter was decidedly more mixed, which is unsurprising, considering that the book has been fairly divisive. To my mind, at least, the response is best summed up by these two fairly similar tweets tweets from the pro-Goldfinch Julie Bosman and the anti-Goldfinch Lincoln Michel:
Very cool that the winner of fiction Pulitzer is a book that was widely read, reviewed & discussed — not always the case. #goldfinch
— Julie Bosman (@juliebosman) April 14, 2014
Picking the Goldfinch kinda feels like a conscious move to pick as popular a book as possible that still counts as “literary” #pulitzer
— Lincoln Michel (@TheLincoln) April 14, 2014
In other words, how you feel about the Goldfinch winning the Pulitzer Prize might have a lot to do with how you feel about the Pulitzer Prize, which tends to reward somewhat complex but rarely challenging books by established authors. Underdogs and dense, complicated books are rarely rewarded, even though, yes, Paul Harding did win the Prize back in 2008. It’s an establishment prize, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, though it can be disappointing.
The other winners were a bit more varied and surprising. Most notable of all, perhaps, is Vijay Seshadri Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. Graywolf is on a tear right now—they’ve got a bestseller (Leslie Jamison‘s fantastic The Empathy Exams) and now a Pulitzer. We love you Graywolf! Big ups. And Alan Taylor’s The Internal Enemy is one of the best books I’ve ever read about antebellum America—if you’re interested in American history or are a dad, pick it up.
Overall, big books won the day: The Goldfinch is nearly 800 pages long (along with Philipp Meyer’s excellent novel The Son and Bob Shacochis’s The Woman Who Lost Her Soul, which were finalists, the Fiction finalists weighed in at over 2,000 pages; The Internal Enemy clocks in at 624 pages; while Margaret Fuller: A New American Life is a relatively scant 496 pages. Our Red or Dead is a Goldfinch-y 736 pages so, if the trend continues, perhaps David Peace will be on the podium next year.
*Technically, the category is Books, Drama, and Music. I had no idea there was a Pulitzer Prize for Music, though I am upset that Kanye West did not win it and some classical music herb did.
Alex Shephard is the director of digital media for Melville House, and a former bookseller.