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Swamplandia! Author Karen Russell Loses Pulitzer to Absolutely No One

Karen Russell has plenty to be grateful for. Her novel, Swamplandia! -- the first one she ever wrote, by the way -- enjoyed widespread popularity, critical acclaim, and was even picked up by HBO, which plans to turn it into a series. Oh, and that same novel was a finalist for this year's Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.

But it didn't win. Who did? Absolutely no one.

For the first time in 35 years, the Pulitzer committee did not name a winner in the fiction category. What's up with that? The most popular theory appears to be that Russell's age -- 29 -- kept her out of the running.


The New York Times' Media Decoder blog reports:

One theory suggested that the Pulitzer board was perplexed by an unconventional group of finalists.

The finalists were Denis Johnson for "Train Dreams," a book that was originally published as a novella in The Paris Review in 2002 and then repackaged and released as a hardcover by Farrar, Straus & Giroux; Karen Russell, whose debut novel "Swamplandia!" was published by Knopf when she was only 29; and David Foster Wallace for "The Pale King," a book that was unfinished at the time of the author's death and later completed by his editor.

We get that Johnson's effort may seem like old news, and that there are certainly tricky ethics to giving a posthumous award to Wallace for a book his editor finished. But Russell's only drawback appears to be her age. And that's strange in a year when the Pulitzer was awarded to one of its youngest winners ever -- 24-year-old Sara Ganim , who won for local reporting. We demand a recount!

For their part, all the authors -- or, at least, their editors -- appear to be handling things with the grace of a snubbed Oscar favorite. Jordan Pavlin, Russell's editor, told Media Decoder, "I was so thrilled for Karen, then my second response was, what a shame, because the committee had it in their power to do something so wonderful for any one of those novelists."

That "something wonderful" stems far beyond mere recognition -- Pulitzer prizes historically translate into book sales as well. But there is one silver lining. That "bumper-to-bumper traffic" on Tamiami Trail we predicted last year? Yeah, that's probably not going to happen now.

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