Tuesday, April 17, 2012
No Pulitzer for Fiction
I'm glad it happened before--11 times, I'm told. If it hadn't, it would be yet another nail in the coffin, enough to make me downright depressed.
Yesterday, the announcement about this year's Pulitzer Prize for fiction was indescribably painful--there was none. Apparently, nothing published in literary fiction last year actually merited the prize. I could weep.
Not that I'm up on what's hot in literary fiction. News stories carried three "finalists," none of which I'd read. I've contributed to the apocalypse myself, I guess. None of the three could gather a majority of the judges' approval, so this year there will be no Pulitzer Prize in fiction.
Depressed? Yes. Suicidal? No.
It's just that this year's wipeout comes just two weeks before my retirement, the time when I'd always planned to write and write and write, maybe even a couple of novels. The news is, nobody's doing much worth crowing about. The undertones hum a resonant tune heard all over these days: literary fiction is dead.
No prize may well make publication even more difficult.
When I started writing fiction, 30+ years ago, a whole bunch of magazines (some defunct) actually took 20-page stories. I never made a living at it, but I published stories in magazines that today wouldn't take anything (certainly no fiction) that takes longer to read than the time it takes to eat a Quarter Pounder. McJournalism reigns today because we simply don't read as much as we used to--one in four Americans didn't read a single book last year.
Literary magazines are dying, unable to garner enough subscriptions to pay for themselves. Some great lit mags used to get 500 submissions a year. Today, they get 20,000. Not a lie. Tons of people want to write literary fiction, but few want to read it.
Human beings will always have an insatiable appetite for story, but for quite a while already we've satisfied that need with visual story-telling--scores of TV channels and, of course, the movies. Not long ago, I asked my students in an intro class why so many kids were absent that morning. "Late night showing of a movie," they said. Hunger Games drew 'em in. Faulkner--"Barn Burning"--the fare for class that day, apparently didn't. Tons of my students, I'm told, have read Hunger Games. It's not that we don't read. Genre fiction still creates mobs.
Technology is the great equalizer. I've said this before, but I'll say it again (and again and again and again): it's almost impossible to publish anything any more because it's so incredibly easy to publish. Does that make sense? Yes. Anyone with bucks enough for a laptop can do it. Want a spine in your library with your name on it? You can, and for a very limited investment. Just go ahead and google self-publishing. Today anybody can publish a book. I'm serious.
Last summer, I queried an old friend in publishing about a children's story I'd written--I knew publication would be terribly tough, but I thought I'd try. She told me, unflinchingly, that her house, a Christian house, really didn't take kiddy lit anymore unless it came in from a celebrity. I'm no celebrity. That's the way of the publishing world.
And now, yesterday, no Pulitzer for fiction. Woe and woe and woe, and just a couple of months before I really start to write. Maybe it'll be shuffleboard, Florida, and a pair of white shoes after all.
Ah, buck up. Life could be worse--what do I know about disappointment?--I'm not even a Cubs fan.
Wait 'till next year!
Posted by J. C. Schaap at 5:38 AM