The 1930 Novel Decision

After the debacle the year before with Richard Burton supposedly releasing the jury decision early, he did not come back to the novel jury for 1930. He was replaced by Albert Paine, Mark Twain’s literary executor and author of his biography. Along with Robert M. Lovett and Jefferson B. Fletcher, this three man jury would remain in place for 8 years, the longest consistent novel or fiction jury to date. The three men all disagreed on what they thought the best novel of the year was. Fletcher threw his vote behind Oliver La Farge’s Laughing Boy, stating that it presents “a poignant situation, in which living and appealing characters move against a picturesque and historically interesting background.” Robert Lovett argued that It’s a Great War, by Mary Lee, stating that, of all the prize contenders, “it is the biggest piece of fiction I have read, and comes nearest to satisfying the last conditions of which I was notified, i.e. ‘preferably a novel presenting the whole atmosphere of American life.’” Paine, on the other hand, preferred Look Homeward, Angel by Thomas Wolfe, calling it “the work of a genius, slightly demented, as a genius is likely to be.”

The three jury members, however, ultimately decided to collectively agree on Laughing Boy as their recommendation, however the jury report included thoughts from each of the members on what they thought the best novel should be, because, as Fletcher wrote in the report, “since the Trustees have reserved the ultimate decision to themselves, it seems advisable to let each member of the committee speak for himself.” Which is clearly a slight directed at the Prize Committee’s repeated selection of a novel besides the one recommended by the jury.

The Pulitzer Prize Committee did select Laughing Boy to win the Pulitzer in 1930, although John Hohenburg writes that “it was not a popular selection. Nor was there any letup in the critical barrage against the Fiction [sic] Prize.”

Currently reading: Years of Grace by Margaret Ayer Barnes

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