Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Explaining the Pulitzers: A New Dynamic Arises in Year of the Young Woman

Sara Ganim prepares to receive a Pulitzer hug.
Some of us are trying to get a handle on the Pulitzer Prizes, announced yesterday. They are far more interesting this year for what they aren't than what they are. There is no fiction winner, no editorial writing winner and two of the major prizes went to online news organizations. The two largest print news organizations in the country didn't win at all and the NYTimes only won two.

Quiara Algeria Hudes
It is the Year of the Young Woman with 24-year-old Sara Ganim of the Harrisburg, Pa., Patriot-News winning for her Jerry Sandusky coverage; 34-year-old Quiara Algeria Hudes, who had two previous nominations, winning for her Iraq war play "Water by the Spoonful"; and 40-year-old Brooklyn poet Tracy Smith winning in that category.

There are reasons for all of this, but the myriad explanations can be boiled down to this: the world of information is changing and this is an exclamation point.

Tracy Smith
Nowhere is that world changing more substantially than in books, where a good one is as likely to be only available online (e-book) as it is in hardback. "Self-publish" is no longer the mark of a book that can't be published anywhere else, any more than a self-published music collection is necessarily less than what the studios would present you. Control is shifting and the Pulitzer boys recognize some of that and are fighting the rest.

I asked my friend Betsy Gehman in Lynchburg--who's seen a lot of these changes in her 90 years (next month) and she had this to say: 

I think it's confusing to those Pulitzer judges who really can't make a decision about what actually makes a book "good" when so many books are self-published these days.

I picture the doddering old white-hairs of the Pulitzer "industry" as confused and bewildered without the kiss of approval on a book that used to be conferred only by those long-established upper-crust publishers who threw lots of money into ad campaigns for their own very limited product. Pretty much like our political campaigns: the more money thrown at the advertising of their books, the more likely their candidates might be nominated.

They're all part of The Establishment.

You remember that once upon a time Hollywood was controlled by five or six all-powerful studios. Independent films were treated like trash. Today, there are no more studios. And coming soon: no more book publishing monoliths.

The Distant Early Warning has been sounded! Say farewell to Johannes Gutenberg. He had good long run!

Here's a look at who won and who made news (The NYTimes, of course, led with its two prizes, but jumped straight to the real importance of the story without taking a deep breath).

No comments:

Post a Comment