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Prognosticating the Pulitzer

April 17, 2009 |  9:07 am

Pulitzerheader
The Pulitzer Prizes will be announced Monday. Though prestigious, the awards are not highly lucrative — winners get $10,000, which, while nice, is no £50,000 Man Booker (about $74,000). The real benefit for the prize-winning novel is that the award may help sell books.

For the second year running, the website PPrize.com, which trades in first editions of Pulitzer Prize winners, has crunched some numbers to predict who might win the prize for fiction.

Even on the eve of the awards, the possible Pulitzer winner is a mystery. The Pulitzer, unlike some other writing prizes, doesn't release a list of those in the running. The publicity-loving Man Booker proudly announces its long list, then announces those that remain on the short list, then finally proclaims the winner. The Pulitzer announces the winner and its runners-up simultaneously, when the award is given.

PPrize.com has done a statistical analysis to come up with 10 titles that may be in the running. Last year the website explained the methodology behind its regression analysis:

This analysis incorporated over 30 independent or predictor variables such as newspaper notable and best book lists; other awards and award nominations for 2007; and authors previously nominated for the Pulitzer and other awards ... because some authors are perennial award winners and nominees, their books are disproportionately likely to end up at the top in calculations such as this, so any book by Philip Roth or Joyce Carol Oates, for example, will likely wind up in the top 10.


PPrize admits it wouldn't have predicted the 2002 win by Richard Russo or then-first-time author Jhumpa Lahiri in 2000. But Lahiri makes its list this time. The list, in order of probability:

1. "Home" by Marilynne Robinson
2. "The Widows of Eastwick" by John Updike
3. "Indignation" by Philip Roth
4. "The Lazarus Project" by Aleksandar Hemon
5. "Fine Just the Way It Is" by Annie Proulx
6. "The Plague of Doves" by Louise Erdrich
7. "A Mercy" by Toni Morrison
8. "Unaccustomed Earth" by Jhumpa Lahiri
9. "Olive Kitteridge" by Elizabeth Strout
10. "Dangerous Laughter" by Steven Millhauser
11. "Telex from Cuba" by Rachel Kushner
12. "Netherland" by Joseph O'Neill
13. "My Sister, My Love" by Joyce Carol Oates
14. "Lush Life" by Richard Price
15. "Our Story Begins" by Tobias Wolff


Last year, with just 10 picks, they got the winner and a finalist. This year, the list of 15 includes six previous winners: Lahiri, Morrison, Proulx, Robinson, Roth and Updike. Oates is a three-time finalist. These 15 seem like a solid guesstimate of the books that might be in the running.

But maybe someone — a new author like Hemon or Kushner who hasn't yet popped up in the metrics that PPrize has developed — will come out of left field. We'll have to wait until Monday to find out which novelist will become permanently appended with "Pulitzer Prize-winning author."

— Carolyn Kellogg

Images from Pulitzer.org

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