The 1935 Novel Decision

The 1935 Novel Jury, apparently in some disagreement, and unimpressed with the year’s offerings in fiction, issued a harsh report at the end of their deliberations, stating, “It seems impossible for your jury on the Pulitzer prize for the best American novel to agree this year on anything but that there is, in their opinion, no outstanding novel.” The jury went on to list eight possible selections: Slim by W. W. Haines, The Folks by Ruth Suckow, Now in November by Josephine Johnson, Goodbye to the Past by W. R. Burnett, The Foundry by Albert Halper, Land of Plenty, by Robert Cantwell, The American by Louis Dodge, and So Red the Rose by Stark Young.

As a reminder that there were, perhaps, more polite sentiments at the time, the jury writes about Slim, “There is an episode of sex, but treated with high seriousness.” They describe The American as, “A little melodramatic, but full of interesting characters and ‘local color’.” The report also states that Land of Plenty is a similar story to The Foundry, “but thought by one member of the jury to be more brilliant than that.”

The Advisory Board selected Now in November for the prize, and John Hohenberg writes that they “did not elaborate on the process by which it was selected.” He suggests that Now in November was selected because more space was given its description in the report and because Chairman Fletcher’s, “attitude toward it was more enthusiastic than the rest. While the report does state, “the imaginative power and magic of style with which the rather lurid tale is presented are remarkable,” but only after saying of the novel, “The author is young, and youthfully enjoys piling horror upon horror.”

Because of the indecision by the jury, and due to a change the year before in the wording of the journalism prizes under the dean of journalism, Carl Ackerman, the wording of the criteria for Pulitzer Prize for Novel was once again changed before the next year’s prizes were considered. Just as Dean Ackerman had replaced the word “best” in the journalism prizes with phrases like, “a distinguished example” and “distinguished service,” the wording of the novel prize was rewritten to award the prize to “a distinguished novel published during the year by an American author, preferably dealing with American life.” And so, for the fourth time in less than 20 years, the wording of the prize criteria for novel was changed, but even then it wouldn’t be long before the wording was changed once again.

Currently reading: Honey in the Horn by H. L. Davis


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