Tuesday, May 05, 2015

On This Day in 1926, Sinclair Lewis Refused the Pulitzer Prize

All prizes, like all titles, are dangerous. The seekers for prizes tend to labor not for inherent excellence but for alien rewards: they tend to write this, or timorously to avoid writing that, in order to tickle the prejudices of a haphazard committee. And the Pulitzer Prize for novels is peculiarly objectionable because the terms of it have been constantly and grievously misrepresented.
Those terms are that the prize shall be given "for the American novel published during the year which shall best present the wholesome atmosphere of American life, and the highest standard of American manners and manhood." This phrase, if it means anything whatever, would appear to mean that the appraisal of the novels shall be made not according to their actual literary merit but in obedience to whatever code of Good Form may chance to be popular at the moment.

The first Pulitzer Prize for the novel went to Ernest Poole, a 1%-er child of privilege, whose Pappy worked with the stockyard packing interests and Jane Addams against the Amalgamated Meatcutters Union in breaking the 1904 and the subesquent 1912 stockyard strikes. Young Ernie, just out of Princeton, was 'made' a free-lance journalist who would 'cover' the strikes.  There is no primary source material indicating Master Poole's prose reportage of too heart-breaking attempts by labor to get a fair shake from the Swifts, the Armours and Cudahys. Jane Addams Hull House flourished, Chicago's  new Orchestra Hall was built and less-connected 'settlement house' operations were funded, once Jane Addams and Dr. Cornelia De Bey 'persuaded' Meatcutter President Michael Donnelly to end the strike of 1904.  That ended things for the stockyard workers then and there, but Progressive Chicago triumphed.
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Ernest Poole wrote his second novel, His Family, which no one reads,  ( well, I did, out of curiosity) and it took the first Pulitzer Prize.  It is a genuine stinker - think Babbitt without any humor, whatsoever.

The Pulitzer Prize has gone to many mediocrities and a few people of actual worth and accomplishment.
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Even in 1926, some accomplished folks could tell the difference between Shinola and that other substance.
Sinclair Lewis and Ernest Poole shared some political opinions.  Both saw Socialism as a stay against totalitarianism.  Only Lewis caught on to the fact that socialism was a path to misery. Ernest Poole was an apologist for Stalin way past his due date ( 1937).   Lefties never admit to being wrong; God Bless Them.

Thanks to Sinclair Lewis, who would later accept a Nobel Prize for Literature, someone pointed out the nonsense.

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