My small parochial school did its best to educate me. My university put me through a class where I read a bunch of short stories all semester, but unleashed me on the Psychology department after that.
It turns out, that even though I’d like to be a regular novelist, I’m not very well read. I’ve worked on this in my adult life, so I have many, many books under my belt by now. But I have to say, many have been by foreign authors. The reason for this is because I went through curricula from better high schools and read the books on their syllabi. Many of the “classics” are British novels from the previous two centuries. Prejudice kept me from filling in the gaps with varied American writers, poverty kept me from being exposed to anything more than the Bronte ladies, Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald.
I had a little daydream today, like all budding novelists do, of winning a Pulitzer one day. Wouldn’t that be grand? It is the American novelist’s pinnacle, a lottery of bounty and a trophy of respect. I’m probably being totally naive with that image. Still seems cool though.
I don’t allow myself to laze away in the haze of a dream. I realized quickly I truly know nothing about the Pulitzer. Zero. Zip. Nada. I’m about as far away from winning a Pulitzer as a chihuahua is from being named prima ballerina at the Bolshoi. But I can learn what MAKES a Pulitzer. Not that there is a formula, but I’d like to experience what the Pulitzer committee thinks is worthy of this nation’s top literary prize. I decided, a few minutes ago, that I should read every single book on that list.
Here is the list (via wikipedia):
- 1948: Tales of the South Pacific by James A. Michener
- 1949: Guard of Honor by James Gould Cozzens
- 1950: The Way West by A. B. Guthrie, Jr.
- 1951: The Town by Conrad Richter
- 1952: The Caine Mutiny by Herman Wouk
- 1953: The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway
- 1954: No award given
- 1955: A Fable by William Faulkner
- 1956: Andersonville by MacKinlay Kantor
- 1957: No award given
- 1958: A Death in the Family by James Agee
- 1959: The Travels of Jaimie McPheeters by Robert Lewis Taylor
- 1960: Advise and Consent by Allen Drury
- 1961: To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
- 1962: The Edge of Sadness by Edwin O’Connor
- 1963: The Reivers by William Faulkner
- 1964: No award given
- 1965: The Keepers of the House by Shirley Ann Grau
- 1966: The Collected Stories of Katherine Anne Porter by Katherine Anne Porter
- 1967: The Fixer by Bernard Malamud
- 1968: The Confessions of Nat Turner by William Styron
- 1969: House Made of Dawn by N. Scott Momaday
- 1970: The Collected Stories of Jean Stafford by Jean Stafford
- 1971: No award given
- 1972: Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner
- 1973: The Optimist’s Daughter by Eudora Welty
- 1974: No award given 
- 1975: The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara
- 1976: Humboldt’s Gift by Saul Bellow
- 1977: No award given
- 1978: Elbow Room by James Alan McPherson
- 1979: The Stories of John Cheever by John Cheever
- 1980: The Executioner’s Song by Norman Mailer
- 1981: A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole
- 1982: Rabbit Is Rich by John Updike
- 1983: The Color Purple by Alice Walker
- 1984: Ironweed by William Kennedy
- 1985: Foreign Affairs by Alison Lurie
- 1986: Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry
- 1987: A Summons to Memphis by Peter Taylor
- 1988: Beloved by Toni Morrison
- 1989: Breathing Lessons by Anne Tyler
- 1990: The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love by Oscar Hijuelos
- 1991: Rabbit At Rest by John Updike
- 1992: A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley
- 1993: A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain by Robert Olen Butler
- 1994: The Shipping News by E. Annie Proulx
- 1995: The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields
- 1996: Independence Day by Richard Ford
- 1997: Martin Dressler: The Tale of an American Dreamer by Steven Millhauser
- 1998: American Pastoral by Philip Roth
- 1999: The Hours by Michael Cunningham
- 2000: Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri
- 2001: The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon
- 2002: Empire Falls by Richard Russo
- 2003: Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
- 2004: The Known World by Edward P. Jones
- 2005: Gilead by Marilynne Robinson
- 2006: March by Geraldine Brooks
- 2007: The Road by Cormac McCarthy
- 2008: The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz
I’ve read a handful of them, one or two I own but haven’t read yet, and some I’ve seen the movie. For those that I’ve read, I should re-read because it has been years and I don’t remember them. Going in order is impossible; I’ll be skipping around, beginning with the ones I own. I’ll borrow the rest of the library. Perhaps I’ll Netflix the movies that go with each story.
This project may take away from my enjoyment of cyberpunk (notice that these all are mainstream fiction) but I’ll just have to take even more time away from blogging and social media, I guess. To be a good writer, one needs to be educated. My literary education has been strained and almost non-existant, so I must continue, as I have done for the last 10 years, to read what I should have read as a youth. I’m not about to get a degree in Literature, so this is my “DO IT YOURSELF” approach. Yes, I know the nominees that didn’t win are worth a look, too, and some genres are totally ignored but this list is a good place to start. I’ll keep you updated periodically and try to review when I can.
I remember being moved by The Color Purple, moved to the very core of my inner self. I have a feeling that THE ROAD by Cormac McCarthy is going to annoy me, from what I’ve read about it (how it isn’t his best work but the prize was more awarded for his life’s work, etc.) and its format, but I’ll give it a try. I’m happy there are women on this list. I look forward to reading with you.
Any of your favorites on this list? Maybe we can start a Pulitzer book club! What do you think?