The 1936 Novel Decision

With the new wording for the prize criteria calling, not for “the best novel” but “a distinguished novel,” the same jury from the year before deliberated, and recommended Honey in the Horn by H. L. Davis for the prize, stating, “There is lively and varied action and exceedingly graphic description of a little known section of the country,” and comparing the “style and humor” of the novel to Mark Twain’s writing. The jury listed as lesser suggestions, This Body the Earth by Paul Green, Time Out of Mind by Rachel Field, Silas Crocket by Ellen Chase, Ollie Miss by George Wylie Henderson, Deep Dark River by Robert Ryles, and Blessed is the Man by Louis Zara.

The Advisory Board went ahead with the jury suggestion and awarded the prize to Davis for Honey in the Horn, although John Hohenberg notes that they “fully realized that criticism of the fiction award would continue. And it did. Changing the formula (prize criteria), as always, really changed nothing.”

Hohenberg writes of one further development that Hohenberg writes about in the aftermath of the award. He mentions that Sinclair Lewis was described by the New York Times as “a judge of the prize contest” and described the book as “full of raciness, of adventure, of color,” and said that Honey in the Horn is “one of those uncommon books that really express a land and an age and, by expressing them, really create them.” Hohenberg points out that Lewis was not included in any records as being part of the novel jury for the Pulitzer Prize, and mentions a correspondence he had with Lewis’ biographer, Mark Schorer, in which he calls Lewis’ “claim of jury membership ‘improbable’” and “a kind of joke.”

However, in doing my own research into the project, I believe this confusing claim that Sinclair Lewis was on the Pulitzer jury is due to the vague wording of the New York Times article. Sinclair Lewis was one of the three judges for the Harper Prize in 1935, along with Louis Bromfield (another Pulitzer winner) and Dorothy Canfield. The Harper Prize judged submitted manuscripts and the winners were selected for publication by Harper & Brothers. The New York Times article from May 5, 1936, which was a collection of brief biographies of several of the year’s Pulitzer Prize winners, refers to Honey in the Horn as winning the Harper Prize the year before at the beginning of the article, and then refers to Sinclair Lewis as a “judge of the prize contest” near the end, with the confusion arising from the title of the article, “List of the 1936 Pulitzer Awards for Achievement in Journalism and Letters.” I believe the New York Times was referring to Lewis as a judge of the Harper Prize instead of the Pulitzer Prize (which would be highly unlikely given Lewis’ history with the Pulitzers), and that vagary is the origin of Hohenberg’s confusion.

Currently reading: Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell

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