Monday, April 19, 2010

Pulitzer Prize surprise

One last Alcatraz swim reference, and then I’ll let it drop for a while: It built on one of my favorite allegories (pronounced “cliché”). I’m fond of telling people, or writing in their copies of Trizophrenia, Roadie or any given Frazz book (every so often I have to stop and remember what this blog was created to promote) that:

Life is better when you’re in over your head.

It’s not just a clever slogan, it’s something I truly believe. No challenge, no growth. But if you do enough swims in big enough open water, you will run into a most apropos corollary:

It’s not the 300 feet below that gets you; it’s all that sudden swirly stuff on the surface.

Sorry I missed Friday’s entry. It’s been a swirly spring.

Amid the figurative waves was a particularly refreshing trio of Pulitzer Prize winners. Two of my heroes won; two very good friends won (same two, as it happens); and a guy sort of like me, by which I mean a very tiny bit like me and only then if I really stretch the comparison, won.

Gene Weingarten won his second Pulitzer Prize for feature writing. That only puts him about a dozen Pulitzers behind how many he should have in the bag, but the nature of awards being what it is, this will do. I was a fan of Gene before I met him; I learned of him the same way most people probably did, through his humor columns in the Washington Post. I still contend that with any given piece he can be the funniest man in print. But the irony of comedy is that you can’t sustain funny unless you’re also really good at serious, and Gene is as good a reporter as he is a smart-ass. He won his prize for a story on a subject only a tiny share of writers could handle, let alone write about. Read it at your peril. “Feature” writing is not necessarily synonymous with “light.” Bravo, Gene. You continue to inspire and awe me.

Mark Fiore won for editorial cartooning. Mark, I believe, was the first editorial cartoonist I met as a peer, which is to say after I jumped into the game. I bumped into him at the Chattanooga airport when I arrived there for my first Association of American Editorial Cartoonists convention and we shared a cab to the hotel. He was instantly likeable, and his portfolio was instantly recognizable as showing far more talent than someone I’d never heard of ought to have. He was self-syndicated, not on anybody’s staff, which seemed wrong, but that gave him the chance to go in new directions like Flash animation, and look where it got him: To the Pulitzer he deserved in the first place. Bravo, Mark.

And Paul Harding won the Fiction award for his debut novel “Tinkers.” I don’t know Paul Harding from Warren Harding, and I haven’t read “Tinkers” (though seriously get the impression I ought to), but he’s kind of the counter to Weingarten and Fiore in that his Pulitzer was right on time instead of years overdue. And he was published by Bellevue Literary Press and its 2-person staff. No hype, no marketing surge, just talent. That’s the sort of thing that gives the rest of us writers delusions of hope. And delusions of hope are essential in this business.

I could use some delusions of hope right now. Because Trizophrenia got beat out – by the slimmest of margins, no doubt – in the Nonfiction category by The Dead Hand: The Untold Story of the Cold War Arms Race and Its Dangerous Legacy. I knew I should have been more delicate with the passage about the farting professor on the mountaintop.


veloben said...

For us non-swimmers:

It's not the 2000 meters you have to descend; its the pothole you fail to miss.

Elaine Howley said...

So true about that swirly stuff! But sounds like you handled it all like a champ. Well done!

La Professora said...

Speaking of Trizophrenia, it became this week's grading avoidance tactic. I'm loving the footnotes. They win the prize as far as I'm concerned -- they're the best part of the book. Which is high praise, coming from someone who had interest in footnotes beating out of her by graduate school.