The 1943 Novel Decision

After the fiasco in 1942, all three jurors on the novel jury for the Pulitzer Prizes resigned their positions, and an all-new trio of jurors was formed to consider the books eligible for the 1943 prize. The jury was headed by John R. Chamberlain, who was at the time a journalist for Time, and a professor of journalism at Colombia University. The jury was rounded out by journalist Lewis S. Gannett and author and literary critic Maxwell S. Geismar.

The jury report states, “the novel most worthy of the Pulitzer Prize is Upton Sinclair’s ‘Dragon’s Teeth.’” Chamberlain writes that Sinclair’s novel appeared first on the list of two of the members of the jury, and was the second choice of the third. Chamberlain writes that “The Lanny Budd sequence, of which ‘Dragon’s Teeth’ is an integral part, is Sinclair’s best fiction by far,” and attempts to soothe the advisory board by telling them that though Sinclair is “known as a socialist, he has, however, lost his old habits of the doctrinaire and pamphleteer. The subject of ‘Dragon’s Teeth’ is not anything so narrow or questionable as the Marxist class struggle, which Sinclair used to portray thirty years ago.”

Two other novels were listed as appearing in the top eight choices by all three jury members: The Just and the Unjust by James Cozzens, and The Valley of Decision by Marcia Davenport. The report states that Cozzens’ novel “might be described as an almost first-rate novel … but the final spark is missing. The book doesn’t march.” The report criticizes Davenport’s novel, saying it “is long; it tries to cover too much ground” and that her theme “is not as great as Sinclair’s.”

As Dragon’s Teeth had already been suggested for the Pulitzer the year before (though it was ineligible at that time because it was published in 1942, not 1941), and with the recommendation of the novel jury, the advisory board apparently had no problem awarding the Prize to Upton Sinclair in 1943.

Currently Reading: Between Two Worlds by Upton Sinclair


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