With March Madness and the Super Bowl recently crowning champions and the Grammys and Oscars awarding music and movies, it’s finally time for the literary world to have its own big moment in the sun. And that can only mean one thing: It’s Pulitzer time!

While there are many book awards that highlight some of the outstanding literature released in the past year, the prestigious Pulitzer Prize is the one that seems to garner the most attention. It’s also been around for a long while, originating back in 1918 as the “Pulitzer Prize for the Novel.”

For any readers unfamiliar with the award, the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction has a particularly rich list of authors who are past recipients: William Faulkner x 2, Ernest Hemingway, Katherine Anne Porter, Eudora Welty, Alice Walker, Larry McMurtry, Toni Morrison, Jhumpa Lahiri, Michael Chabon, Edward P. Jones, Marilynne Robinson, Cormac McCarthy, Elizabeth Strout, Colson Whitehead x 2, Louise Erdrich, and more. 

Predicting the winner for the May 6th ceremony is nearly impossible. Last year’s announcement is a great example. There wasn’t one winner. Nope. Instead, there were two winners for the 2023 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. Barbara Kingsolver won for Demon Copperhead AND Hernan Diaz also won for Trust. 2023 was definitely better than 2012, which came with its own surprise: there was no winner. Talk about a literary letdown. During some years, the big book of the year takes home the Prize. I’m thinking of Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See and Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch as recent examples. Other years offer surprise picks–those that even some of the best prognosticators might’ve missed. Paul Harding’s Tinkers is a prime example. And what a great selection it was. 

Even if predicting the Pulitzer is difficult, it is good fun to try. No matter what book wins, the announcement of the Pulitzer will bring attention to books, and I’m all about celebrating books. I think pretty much all of us here are.

Like with my usual shot at this whole Pulitzer prediction thing, I mostly try to stay away from my own personal opinions too much, which is why I didn’t include many of my favorite fiction books of the year, including George Singleton’s The Curious Lives of Nonprofit Martyrs, David Lawrence Morse’s The Book of Disbelieving, Victor LaValle’s Lone Women, Kelly Link’s White Cat, Black Dog, Jolene McIlwain’s Sidle Creek, and Mimi Herman’s The Kudzu Queen. Instead, I consider previous awards, critics’ thoughts, buzz, and plain ol’ Bradley Sides intuition in offering my predictions, in order, for the 2024 Pulitzer Prize in Fiction:

10: The Hive and the Honey by Paul Yoon

It’s a short story collection, which history tells us (unfortunately) somewhat limits the likelihood of a Pulitzer win, but Paul Yoon’s latest release is a worthy and serious contender. In The Hive and the Honey, Yoon looks at big themes such as identity and belonging, and the prose is beautiful as with all of the author’s books. The collection took home the esteemed Story Prize, and Time, The New Yorker, and others cited it as one of the year’s best. 

9: I Am Homeless if This is Not My Home by Lorrie Moore

Any Lorrie Moore release has to be in the Pulitzer conversation. She’s just that kind of acclaimed writer. I Am Homeless if This is Not My Home recently won the National Book Critics Award in Fiction, and it’s a big book that spans time and place. Watch for it.

8: Big Swiss by Jen Beagin

If the folks deciding the Pulitzer decide they want to make an eccentric choice, Jen Beagin’s Big Swiss is the kind of big, quirky comedy that could find its way in the winner’s circle. Beagin’s novel covers orgasms, sex therapy, and mental health. It’s a book that appeared on many best of the year lists, so it definitely has some attention. 

7: The Lost Journals of Sacajewea by Debra Magpie Earling

From Milkweed Editions, The Lost Journals of Sacajewea powerfully brings to life the titular character. It’s a book about survival, and it has some serious staying power. This is a book that I continue hearing praise for–and keep in mind that it’s been out since May 2023. It’s a deserving contender.

6: Let Us Descend by Jesmyn Ward

Jesmyn Ward has won the National Book Award twice, and it seems like it’s just a matter of time before one of our most talented writers wins a Pulitzer. Maybe the time is now. Let Us Descend was a finalist for the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence, and Time, The New Yorker, and The Washington Post, along with several other venues, cited it as one of 2023’s very best. 

5: Biography of X by Catherine Lacey

Biography of X, which dives into art and the people who make it, is undoubtedly one of the most awarded books of the year. Vulture and Publishers Weekly were just a couple of the venues that selected it as a best book of the year. It was also a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award and was longlisted for the PEN/Faulkner Award. Biography of X is also a hugely ambitious novel–the kind readers take note of. 

4: North Woods by Daniel Mason

North Woods is a novel about a house, and I can just about guarantee that you haven’t read anything else like it. I’m telling you, this house has stories. The approach Mason takes here is inventive, and it takes us through time with such realness. It’s one of the most celebrated books of the year. It was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. The New York Times and The Washington Post both celebrated it. Time, The Star Tribune, and The Boston Globe are just a few of the many publications that named it as one of the best books of 2023. Mason was a finalist for the Pulitzer in 2021. North Woods is a major contender. 

3: Chain-Gang All-Stars by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah

In what could very well be the understatement of the year, Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah’s Chain-Gang All-Stars had a successful year. The author’s debut novel, which delves into issues related to capitalism, racism, and the prison system, has received numerous honors. In addition to being listed by countless publications as one of 2023’s best literary releases, Chain-Gang All-Stars was a finalist for the National Book Award, and it was longlisted for many others, including the Center for Fiction First Novel Prize and the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence. 

2: Blackouts by Justin Torres

Experimenting with form, Justin Torres’ Blackouts is about friendship, queerness, and stories. It’s a novel that’s been widely praised–very widely praised. For example, Blackouts won the annual Tournament of Books. It, too, won the National Book Award and was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. We the Animals, the author’s previous novel, is one of the best novels of recent memory. Blackouts is a worthy follow-up. It’s likely to get some attention on Pulitzer day. 

1: The Heaven & Earth Grocery Store by James McBride

Sometimes a book works its way inside your heart, and it doesn’t really leave. Well, James McBride’s The Heaven & Earth Grocery Store is that book. It’s a big American novel. A great one, too. It tackles issues related to love, race, and community, and mostly, it’s a book that’s brimming with compassion. It won the Kirkus Prize. Time, The New Yorker, The Washington Post, NPR named it as one of the best. Barnes & Noble named it “Book of the Year.” Amazon did the same. It’s loved. 

Like I mentioned earlier, I try to keep my personal feelings out of these predictions as much as I can, and I have for the most part. If I’m being honest, though, The Heaven & Earth Grocery Store is my favorite book of the year. It’s many people’s favorite book of the year. I think it’ll be the Pulitzer folks’ favorite book of the year. 

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