High Strangeness: UFOs and the Pulitzer Prize

Monday, April 16, 2018

UFOs and the Pulitzer Prize

Well, my biography of Dr. J. Allen Hynek, The Close Encounters Man, did NOT win the Pulitzer Prize for biography. Are you surprised to learn that it had been nominated?

Don't be: I nominated it! Myself!

It' a funny little secret in the literary and journalism worlds that to be in the running for a Pulitzer, either you or your publisher can nominate you. I just found this out last fall, and when I realized that the deadline was only days away, I asked my editor at Dey Street Books what he thought of me entering my book. He thought it was a great idea and a deal was struck: he said that if I paid the entrance fee, he would ship a box of books across Manhattan, from his office to the Pulitzer office at Columbia University! So, that day I got a check for $50 out to the awards office and then settled in for a long wait...
The strangely disc-shaped Pulitzer Prize

Now, you may wonder why I would think that a biography of a scientist and UFO researcher would appeal to the Pulitzer people, and the honest answer is that I really had no idea. It occurred to me that my book was most likely outside the norm of what they usually consider for the Prize. But I thought that maybe, just maybe, their judges would be tired of bios of dead presidents and literary figures, and this could be the year they said, "Let's do something completely different and unexpected and give the Prize to this nifty biography of J. Allen Hynek." This year could have been the year to shake it up. It could have happened.

But it didn't. The winners were announced today, and the top dog in the biography category was Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder, by Caroline Fraser, a bio of that "Little House" gal, Laure Ingalls Wilder, who, I am quite sure, never saw a UFO in either the prairie or the big woods. Just to be clear, I have nothing against Mrs. Wilder. Her books have been family favorites in our house for many years, and Nellie Olesen is one of the most compelling villains in literary history, as far as I'm concerned. So, hats off to Ms Fraser for her win.

Still, it's not like nobody's ever written about Laura Ingalls Wilder. And the finalists in the biography category were a bio of Richard Nixon -- like anyone was asking for that -- and a bio of a poet with bi-polar disorder. Aside from William Butler Yeats, a poet who has been described as "brilliant but peculiar," I'm not a big poetry fan, so I have no comment on the poet bio, but I'm pretty sure Hynek's story is way cooler and way, way more positive than Nixon's.

If I wanted to, I could start describing my book as a "Pulitzer Nominee," which some authors and publishers do, but the Pulitzer people frown on that practice, for obvious reasons. You might as well put a "Pulitzer Loser" sticker on the cover of your book.

So, while I'm bummed that I didn't win the big Prize, I take some comfort in knowing that, statistically speaking, at least one of the Pulitzer judges has probably seen a UFO, and that person maybe, just maybe, enjoyed my book and maybe, just maybe, cast his or her vote for The Close Encounters Man.
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