Pulitzer Prize Predictions for Fiction 2023 

If you follow along with me at all, you know that I’m obsessed with the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. A lot of people devotedly follow the Booker Prize or the Women’s Prize, and I do too, but the Pulitzer is the one that has my heart. I’m working on a project where I am reading every book that has won a Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, and I find it truly fascinating.

I also try to predict what will win the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction every year–even though it’s really a fool’s errand. Unlike the Booker or the Women’s Prize, you don’t have anything to go on when you make a prediction. There’s no longlist, and the finalists are only announced alongside the winner. You are completely in the dark. But that’s why it’s also kinda fun… if a little maddening.

There aren’t even any consistent indicators for where the jury for that year will go. Sometimes the ALA Notable Titles are helpful, but more often they aren’t. Sometimes the PEN/Faulkner longlist gives you a good idea, but most of the time it doesn’t.

So far, I’ve managed to at least mention the winner in my predictions–even if only to express skepticism that it will actually win, as I did with The Nickel Boys in my 2020 prediction (in my defense, it’s very rare for anyone to win a second Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. But it happened for Colson Whitehead!). I know there will eventually be a year where I don’t see a curveball coming, but that’s part of the fun for me.

Before we begin, just a quick note on the process of selection so you understand how the Pulitzer Prizes work. A jury is named for each category to go through the submissions. We don’t get to know who the jury is until the prize is announced, although we do know who is on the Board. The jury narrows it down to finalists–usually three, although the number varies. They do not get to pick a winner, but they do make a recommendation to the Board. The Board can then go with the jury’s recommendation, choose a different book from the finalists, or opt not to award the prize at all (although this last scenario is unlikely after the controversy that came in 2012 when the Board failed to select a winner).

This selection process isn’t entirely unlike the way it works for the Booker or the Women’s Prize, but it does manage to keep you on your toes more than those prizes.

The Pulitzer also has a mandate which needs to be taken into consideration, although how it is applied can be very murky: “For distinguished fiction published in book form during the year by an American author, preferably dealing with American life.”

Anyway, let’s get to the candidates. I’ve divided them into a couple of categories to make it a little easier to discuss them. At the end, I’ll make my prediction and talk about what I would like to see win.

And on May 8, we’ll find out if I’m right.


Since I’m calling these books frontrunners, you can probably guess that these are the books and authors that I think have the best odds at winning–even though the odds don’t really mean anything. These books may have the highest pedigree, but sometimes that can work against you. In fact, in the last twenty years, a heavy favorite has only won four times (five if you include The Nickel Boys, which I handicapped because its author had already won a Pulitzer). And in case you’re wondering, I am counting the following four books as frontrunners that actually won since 2003: The Road, A Visit From the Goon Squad, All the Light We Cannot See, and The Underground Railroad.

So as with any category we’ll be looking at today, take this with a big ol’ grain of salt.

Trust, Hernan Diaz 

From the blurb: “At once an immersive story and a brilliant literary puzzle, TRUST engages the reader in a quest for the truth while confronting the deceptions that often live at the heart of personal relationships, the reality-warping force of capital, and the ease with which power can manipulate facts.”

The case for it: Trust has been perhaps the most consistently rewarded title from 2022. Its subject matter is largely American and although it is set one hundred years ago, its central themes about capitalism are still very relevant today. And sometimes the Pulitzer doesn’t like books that have fingerprints from other book prizes on them, but Trust has a good pedigree without any obvious ties to other major book prizes. And it was one of The New Yorker‘s best books of 2022. Why does that matter? Because David Remnick, the editor of The New Yorker, is one of the Board members who will decide which book wins the Pulitzer. But take that with a grain of salt because The New Yorker picks A LOT of books for that list, and a good chunk of them will be featured here somewhere. Still, anytime you hear New Yorker remember that that could have a direct connection to the ultimate winner.

The case against it: there is a faction of detractors who didn’t enjoy this book nearly as much as the praise would make you think (myself included). And maybe it’s too obvious as a frontrunner? The Pulitzer can love a surprise, and no one would be surprised if Trust ends up winning.

Demon Copperhead, Barbara Kingsolver 

From the blurb: “Many generations ago, Charles Dickens wrote David Copperfield from his experience as a survivor of institutional poverty and its damages to children in his society. Those problems have yet to be solved in ours. Dickens is not a prerequisite for readers of this novel, but he provided its inspiration. In transposing a Victorian epic novel to the contemporary American South, Barbara Kingsolver enlists Dickens’ anger and compassion, and above all, his faith in the transformative powers of a good story. Demon Copperhead speaks for a new generation of lost boys, and all those born into beautiful, cursed places they can’t imagine leaving behind.”

The case for it: Barbara Kingsolver has become one of the figureheads of American literature since she was last nominated for a Pulitzer in 1999. If legacy prizes are a thing (and they are, just ask Louise Erdrich), then why not reward an author of her stature for a book that is truly remarkable? Because Demon Copperhead truly is remarkable–and quintessentially American. The Pulitzer Prize also loves retellings of classic novels (just ask The Hours, the book that beat Kingsolver in 1999). Kingsolver feels like an author who should have a Pulitzer, and rewarding her for Demon Copperhead would be a way of getting her one that feels right because it’s a good book from a good author. It’s not empty calories–you can have your cake and eat it, too.

The case against it: like Trust, there are detractors for this book. It also hasn’t been as consistently recognized as Trust. And some of those omissions (like the ALA Notable list) have been surprising. And remember how I said The New Yorker chooses A LOT of books for their best of the year list? Well Demon Copperhead still didn’t make the list. It also needs to be said that the Pulitzer hasn’t had a great track record with recognizing female authors lately. There have only been two women who have won the prize in the last decade (and only six in the last twenty years). And look, people hate it when I bring up gender disparity, but hey: we need to talk about these things to hold institutions accountable. And while Trust feels like a more obvious choice, Demon Copperhead doesn’t have any surprise factor either.

The Swimmers, Julie Otsuka 

From the blurb: “From the award-winning author of The Buddha in the Attic and When the Emperor Was Divine comes a novel that “starts as a catalogue of spoken and unspoken rules for swimmers at an aquatic center but unfolds into a powerful story of a mother’s dementia and her daughter’s love” (The Washington Post).”

  • ALA Notable Title
  • Carnegie Medal for Excellence (from ALA) 
  • The New Yorker‘s Best Books of 2022

The case for it: sometimes the Pulitzer likes to recognize an author who has had one or two books that were well-liked by critics but maybe didn’t capture popular attention (or book prizes). With The Buddha in the Attic and When the Emperor Was Divine, Julie Otsuka fits that profile well. She’s built a reputation for quality that hasn’t really been rewarded yet. And the Pulitzer sometimes likes to recognize authors who play with form, and The Swimmers also meets that brief, beginning with two sections told through a chorus of voices, moving from a community story to a personal one.

The case against it: the reason I’m putting this in the frontrunner category and not just calling it a strong candidate is that I can’t really think of a case against it (except maybe the recent gender disparity in Pulitzer winners or the fact that a woman with Asian heritage has only won a Pulitzer for Fiction once before). I personally didn’t think the book navigated its three sections well, or that the transition from a community story to a personal one worked–but I seem to be in the minority.

The Furrows, Namwali Serpell

From the blurb: “Namwali Serpell’s remarkable new novel captures the uncanny experience of grief, the way the past breaks over the present like waves in the sea. The Furrows is a bold exploration of memory and mourning that twists unexpectedly into a story of mistaken identity, double consciousness, and the wishful–and sometimes willful–longing for reunion with those we’ve lost.”

The case for it: Like Trust and Demon Copperhead, The Furrows has made a strong showing with end-of-year lists. Unlike those other two, The Furrows still has a surprise factor. And like Julie Otsuka, Serpell is coming off of a well-liked book that wasn’t quite recognized (The Old Drift). And while I believe The Old Drift was set in Zambia, The Furrows follows a character who grew up in Baltimore–which could go a long way toward appeasing the “American life” aspect of the Pulitzer’s mandate.

The case against it: Here’s a sad bit of reality: a black woman hasn’t won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction since Toni Morrison in 1988. And only two black women have won in this category. I don’t think there’s an intentional bias at play here, but it is a fact that it hasn’t happened in 35 years. And again: people get upset when I bring that up, but it needs to be talked about.


These are all books that could be frontrunners but have some mark against them that could potentially hold them back. Don’t be surprised if any of them win, but don’t be surprised if they don’t, either.

If I Survive You, Jonathan Escoffery

From the blurb: “Pulsing with vibrant lyricism and inimitable style, sly commentary and contagious laughter, Escoffery’s debut unravels what it means to be in between homes and cultures in a world at the mercy of capitalism and whiteness. With If I Survive You, Escoffery announces himself as a prodigious storyteller in a class of his own, a chronicler of American life at its most gruesome and hopeful.”

The case for it: Escoffery’s debut has earned enough critical citations that it would probably make the Pulitzer jury and Board feel like they wouldn’t be going out on a limb to anoint a new talent. And while story collections haven’t had much luck at the Pulitzers recently, the ones that have broken through have been linked collections that feel more like a traditional novel (like A Visit From the Goon Squad or Olive Kitteridge). If I Survive You would fit that mold.

The case against it: the only reason I’m not putting this book in the frontrunner category is the one-two punch of this being a debut and that it’s a collection of linked stories.

The Rabbit Hutch, Tess Gunty

From the blurb: “Set over one sweltering week in July and culminating in a bizarre act of violence that finally changes everything, The Rabbit Hutch is a savagely beautiful and bitingly funny snapshot of contemporary America, a gorgeous and provocative tale of loneliness and longing, entrapment and, ultimately, freedom.”

The case for it: The Rabbit Hutch does a good job commenting on the state of contemporary America by zooming in on the residents of an affordable housing complex. That could be catnip to the Pulitzer’s mandate.

The case against it: In a weird way, the National Book Award win kinda counts against this book. Only five books have won both a National Book Award and a Pulitzer, and one of those was a paperback prize the NBA briefly tried out in the 80s. It just doesn’t happen very often. It’s also a debut, and one that can be a bit messy in execution (even if its ideas and ambition are really stellar).

Night of the Living Rez, Morgan Talty

From the blurb: “A collection that examines the consequences and merits of inheritance, Night of the Living Rez is an unforgettable portrayal of an Indigenous community and marks the arrival of a standout talent in contemporary fiction.”

The case for it: Night of the Living Rez is a sucker punch about indigenous life in this country as well as addiction, abuse, generational trauma, racism, family, and so much more. It would perfectly fit the Pulitzer’s mandate.

The case against it: … if the Pulitzer Board can get by the fact that it’s a debut. And if they can get over the fact that it’s linked stories. And if they stick with it long enough to get hooked, because a lot of readers (myself included) needed time to realize what Morgan Talty is doing with the structure of this book in order to fall under its spell.

Glory, NoViolet Bulawayo

From the blurb: “Although Zimbabwe is the immediate inspiration for this thrilling story, Glory was written in a time of global clamor, with resistance movements across the world challenging different forms of oppression. Thus it often feels like Bulawayo captures several places in one blockbuster allegory, crystallizing a turning point in history with the texture and nuance that only the greatest fiction can.

The case for it: Glory is one of the biggest critical successes of the year, and while it’s come close to other book prizes, it hasn’t won any that might scare off the Pulitzer. Many praise this book as a visionary look at global turmoil. And in a year full of global turmoil, maybe that gives Bulawayo the edge?

The case against it: One of the most stressful and annoying things about preparing these predictions is trying to guess who might be eligible based on citizenship–which is dicey anyway because Carol Shields moved to Canada in 1957 and became a Canadian citizen before she won a Pulitzer in 1995. NoViolet Bulawayo grew up in Zimbabwe but lives in the U.S. now, so let’s assume that she’s eligible. The book is still very much not American in nature. That’s not a dealbreaker (The Orphan Master’s Son is set in North Korea), but it is a hurdle. And because of the nature of this book, it’s been very consistently compared to Animal Farm. Some people, therefore, roll their eyes at anyone calling this book visionary.

Nightcrawling, Leila Mottley

From the blurb: “A dazzling novel about a young Black woman who walks the streets of Oakland and stumbles headlong into the failure of its justice system.”

The case for it: Nightcrawling was one of the most electrifying debuts of 2022, which is all the more impressive considering that Leila Mottley was only 19 when she wrote this book. It’s raw, difficult, and timely.

The case against it: you’d have to go back to a year before Leila Mottley was even born to get to the last time a black woman won a Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. And then there’s Mottley’s youth. Even if the Board feels inclined to reward a debut this year, will they go for a writer who has a whole career ahead of her?


This is exactly what it sounds like: authors who have caught the attention of Pulitzer juries in the past but didn’t win. I can’t guarantee that being a finalist helps build momentum, but it does at least mean that these are authors who are known to the Board and who are known to be contenders. As a reminder, both Hernan Diaz and Barbara Kingsolver are listed as frontrunners but have also been finalists before.

The Birdcatcher, Gayl Jones

From the blurb: “A study in Black women’s creative expression, and the intensity of their relationships, this work from Jones shows off her range and insight into the vicissitudes of all human nature–rewarding longtime fans and bringing her talent to a new generation of readers.”

The case for it: there are two recent finalists who have experienced a surge in popularity after their nomination, and Gayl Jones is one of them (we’ll talk more about the other, Percival Everett, in a moment). Ever since she became a finalist last year, the words “literary legend” have started getting thrown around. And after a long absence from the literary scene, she’s back in the mix this year, offering another chance to recognize her for her work.

The case against it: I’ve mentioned that a black woman hasn’t won this prize since 1988, so will a book that explicitly deals with black womanhood really have a shot? Although the last black woman to win a Pulitzer was Toni Morrison, who discovered Gayl Jones and has become part of her lore, so who knows?

Dr. No, Percival Everett 

From the blurb: “Dr. No is a caper with teeth, a wildly mischievous novel from one of our most inventive, provocative, and productive writers. That it is about nothing isn’t to say that it’s not about anything. In fact, it’s about villains. Bond villains. And that’s not nothing.”

The case for it: Percival Everett’s reputation has skyrocketed since he became a finalist in 2021, even moreso since he published The Trees the following year. He’s quickly making a case that he is a literary talent destined to win.

The case against it: … but if he didn’t win for The Trees, would he get recognized for such an oddity of a book as this one? Especially when he has another book already announced for next year–one that sounds a lot more in line with what the Pulitzer tends to reward?

The Magic Kingdom, Russell Banks 

From the blurb: “From one of America’s most beloved storytellers: a dazzling tapestry of love and faith, memory and imagination that questions what it means to look back and accept one’s place in history. With an expert eye and stunning vision, Russell Banks delivers a wholly captivating portrait of a man navigating Americana and the passage of time.”

  • The New Yorker‘s Best Books of 2022

The case for it: in 1986, Banks was actually the author who was recommended for the prize, but the Board selected another finalist, Lonesome Dove, instead. He lost out again in 1999, and now that he’s passed away, The Magic Kingdom represents the last chance a Pulitzer Board will have to recognize him. And it’s quintessentially American.

The case against it: it’s been a long time since Banks was a finalist, and his last novel really flew under the radar. That almost makes it feel like there would have to be some seriously dedicated Banks fans on the jury (and on the Board) for this to come together.

Babysitter, Joyce Carol Oates 

From the blurb: “Suspenseful, brilliantly orchestrated, and engrossing, Babysitter is a starkly narrated exploration of the riskiness of pursuing alternate lives, calling into question how far we are willing to go to protect those whom we cherish most. In its scathing indictment of corrupt politics, unexamined racism, and the enabling of sexual predation in America, Babysitter is a thrilling work of contemporary fiction.”

The case for it: Joyce Carol Oates is the Susan Lucci of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. No one has been nominated as many times as her without winning. She’s also insanely prolific and has become an American institution. The fact that her most recent nomination was in 2015 shows that she’s still an author who can draw the attention of this prize. And despite how prolific she is, she’s getting up there in age. The Board is probably running out of opportunities to reward Oates (if they want to). 

The case against it: This is the only book with no pedigree to speak of in this post. It doesn’t feel like anyone really even liked this book, which could explain why it just vanished after it was published. If this wins, it will feel like a legacy prize that will come across way worse than Louise Erdrich winning for The Night Watchman (a book that at least had fans). But the site PPrize, which does predictions for the Pulitzer every year, has Babysitter ranked in second place. So maybe I’m missing something?

Either/Or, Elif Batuman

From the blurb: “From the acclaimed and bestselling author of The Idiot, the continuation of beloved protagonist Selin’s quest for self-knowledge, as she travels abroad and tests the limits of her newfound adulthood”

The case for it: Batuman’s previous novel, The Idiot, was a Pulitzer Prize finalist that has achieved something of a cult following in the years since it was published. Not only is Batuman coming off of that achievement, Either/Or is a well-liked sequel to The Idiot.

The case against it: It doesn’t feel like there’s much of a footprint here, but you could have said the same thing about The Idiot.

Dinosaurs, Lydia Millet

From the blurb: “Over twelve novels and two collections Lydia Millet has emerged as a major American novelist. Hailed as a writer without limits (Karen Russell) and a stone-cold genius (Jenny Offill), Millet makes fiction that vividly evokes the ties between people and other animals and the crisis of extinction. “

  • The New Yorker‘s Best Books of 2022

The case for it: That blurb shows that Millet has been quietly building a reputation as a major American writer, and her last book (A Children’s Bible) was a National Book Award finalist–signaling that she could be on the verge of a breakthrough.

The case against it: … except that her Pulitzer nomination was in 2010. So maybe she’s just destined for more tempered recognition?

The Properties of Thirst, Marianne Wiggins 

From the blurb: “Properties of Thirst is a novel that is both universal and intimate. It is the story of a changing American landscape and an examination of one of the darkest periods in this country’s past, told through the stories of the individual loves and losses that weave together to form the fabric of our shared history. Ultimately, it is an unflinching distillation of our nation’s essence–and a celebration of the bonds of love and family that persist against all odds.

  • The New Yorker‘s Best Books of 2022

The case for it: that blurb sounds tailor-made for the Pulitzer’s mandate.

The case against it: this is one of the most obscure books on this list. But you could have said the same thing about Evidence of Things Unseen, which got Wiggins a nomination in 2004.


The Pulitzer loves surprising prize watchers with a winner who comes straight out of left field, and one of the most difficult things about predicting the Pulitzer is guessing which books could pull off that surprise.

The Haunting of Hajji Hotak: And Other Stories, Jamil Jan Kochai

From the blurb: “The Haunting of Hajji Hotak and Other Stories is a moving exploration of characters grappling with the ghosts of war and displacement–and one that speaks to the immediate political landscape we reckon with today.”

The case for it: this is a book that has been quietly appreciated since it was released, and one which covers very timely and urgent topics with a unique focus on the American aspect of the Pulitzer’s mandate.

The case against it: everything I’ve said about story collections having a tough road to a Pulitzer is true here, and so is the fact that this would feel a bit out of the box for a Pulitzer winner.

Mecca, Susan Straight

From the blurb: “In Mecca, the celebrated novelist Susan Straight crafts an unforgettable American epic, examining race, history, family, and destiny through the interlocking stories of a group of native Californians all gasping for air. With sensitivity, furor, and a cinematic scope that captures California in all its injustice, history, and glory, she tells a story of the American West through the eyes of the people who built it–and continue to sustain it. As the stakes get higher and the intertwined characters in Mecca slam against barrier after barrier, they find that when push comes to shove, it’s always better to push back.”

The case for it: The topic is quintessentially American, a little bit different, and while I don’t know many people who have read this book, those who have seem to have loved it.

The case against it: this is a book that has kept a very low profile. Without a sample size of discourse to go off of, it’s difficult to know how many people connected with this book (and how many didn’t).

Sweet, Soft, Plenty Rhythm, Laura Warrell 

From the blurb: “Delivering a lush orchestration of diverse female voices, Warrell spins a provocative, soulful, and gripping story of passion and risk, fathers and daughters, wives and single women, and, finally, hope and reconciliation, in answer to the age-old question: how do we find belonging when love is unrequited?”

  • PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction finalist 

The case for it: the winner of the PEN/Faulkner award doesn’t really align with the Pulitzer often, but the longlist can (sometimes). Maybe that’s a sign that this lesser-known book could be the surprise we’re looking for.

The case against it: then again, maybe it isn’t.

My Government Means to Kill Me, Rasheed Newson

From the blurb: “Vibrant, humorous, and fraught with entanglements, Rasheed Newson’s My Government Means to Kill Me is an exhilarating, fast-paced coming-of-age story that lends itself to a larger discussion about what it means for a young gay Black man in the mid-1980s to come to terms with his role in the midst of a political and social reckoning.”

The case for it: it would be a really bold statement to reward a black coming-of-age story about a black man dealing with systemic structural racism.

The case against it: it would be a really bold statement to reward a black coming-of-age story about a black man dealing with systemic structural racism.

Stories From The Tenants Downstairs, Sidik Fofana 

From the blurb: “From a superb new literary talent, a rich, lyrical collection of stories about a tight-knit cast of characters grappling with their own personal challenges while the forces of gentrification threaten to upend life as they know it.”

The case for it: it would be a really bold statement to reward a book that is so centered on inner-city black lives and voices, facing systemic inequity (and a story collection no less).

The case against it: it would be a really bold statement to reward a book that is so centered on inner-city black lives and voices, facing systemic inequity (and a story collection no less).

Didn’t Nobody Give a Shit What Happened to Carlotta, James Hannaham

From the blurb: “Written with the same astonishing verve of Delicious Foods, which dazzled critics and readers alike, Didn’t Nobody Give a Shit What Happened to Carlotta sweeps the reader through seemingly every street of Brooklyn, much as Joyce’s Ulysses does through Dublin. The novel sings with brio and ambition, delivering a fantastically entertaining read and a cast of unforgettable characters even as it challenges us to confront the glaring injustices of a prison system that continues to punish people long after their time has been served.”

The case for it: it would be a really bold statement to reward a book that centers a black trans voice (at a time when trans voices are being shut down) in a fierce indictment of the prison industrial complex, the American justice system, and structural racism (with a curse word in the title to boot).

The case against it: it would be a really bold statement to reward a book that centers a black trans voice (at a time when trans voices are being shut down) in a fierce indictment of the prison industrial complex, the American justice system, and structural racism (with a curse word in the title to boot).

Bliss Montage, Ling Ma

From the blurb: “In Bliss Montage, Ling Ma brings us eight wildly different tales of people making their way through the madness and reality of our collective delusions: love and loneliness, connection and possession, friendship, motherhood, the idea of home.

The case for it: it would feel very daring for the Pulitzer Board to recognize such an offbrand, quirky story collection.

The case against it: it would feel very daring for the Pulitzer Board to recognize such an offbrand, quirky story collection.

Booth, Karen Joy Fowler

From the blurb: “Booth is a startling portrait of a country in the throes of change and a vivid exploration of the ties that make, and break, a family.”

The case for it: Fowler has been building a quiet reputation in the literary world, coming closest to breakout success when We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves became a Booker finalist. This is a quintessentially American story about a pivotal moment in American history, exploring it from an unexpected direction.

The case against it: Not many people are thinking about this book for major prizes. It kinda vanished by the end of the year. That means there’s a sense of lowered expectations for this book. And the feedback I’ve gotten on it has been mixed.


There’s a chance these books could win… but don’t hold your breath. For various reasons, they feel very unlikely.

Liberation Day, George Saunders 

From the blurb: “Together, these nine subversive, profound, and essential stories coalesce into a case for viewing the world with the same generosity and clear-eyed attention Saunders does, even in the most absurd of circumstances.”

The case for it: it’s George Saunders! Over the last decade, he’s become a cultural institution in the literary world.

The case against it: despite that, this book completely lacks the cultural footprint of Saunders’ last two books, The Tenth of December and Lincoln in the Bardo. To the point that I keep forgetting about it.

The Kingdom of Sand, Andrew Holleran

From the blurb: “Holleran’s first novel, Dancer from the Dance, is widely regarded as a classic work of gay literature. Reviewers have described his subsequent books as beautiful, exhilarating, seductive, haunting, and bold. The Kingdom of Sand displays all of Holleran’s considerable gifts; it’s an elegy to sex and a stunningly honest exploration of loneliness and the endless need for human connection, especially as we count down our days.”

The case for it: if this were to happen, it would be a pretty deliberate way to recognize an author who has had a profound impact on queer literature and its readers, which unfortunately kept the author himself from being widely recognized by broad audiences

The case against it: only one explicitly queer book has won a Pulitzer. So it’s safe to say that the Pulitzer doesn’t do that.

Lessons in Chemistry, Bonnie Garmus 

From the blurb: “Laugh-out-loud funny, shrewdly observant, and studded with a dazzling cast of supporting characters, Lessons in Chemistry is as original and vibrant as its protagonist.”

The case for it: it’s a popular book that uses a soft approach to discuss heavier topics.

The case against it: only two women have won a Pulitzer over the last decade, so is it likely that they’ll choose a popular book by a woman that Stephen King called “the Catch-22 of early feminism?”

Elsewhere, Alexis Schaitkin

From the blurb: “Provocative and hypnotic, Alexis Schaitkin’s Elsewhere is at once a spellbinding revelation and a rumination on the mysterious task of motherhood and all the ways in which a woman can lose herself to it; the self-monitoring and judgment, the doubts and unknowns, and the legacy she leaves behind.”

The case for it: the fact that this book made the ALA Notable list shows that there are people who are taking it seriously.

The case against it: only two women have won a Pulitzer over the last decade, so is it likely that they’ll choose a book about motherhood wrapped in genre conventions that would feel very off-brand?

Young Mungo, Douglas Stuart

From the blurb: “Imbuing the everyday world of its characters with rich lyricism and giving full voice to people rarely acknowledged in the literary world, Young Mungo is a gripping and revealing story about the bounds of masculinity, the divisions of sectarianism, the violence faced by many queer people, and the dangers of loving someone too much.”

The case for it: I wasn’t a fan, but Stuart’s follow-up to the Booker Prize-winning Shuggie Bain captured a lot of other hearts. There’s also a case to be made that stories like the one here are urgent.

The case against it: explicitly queer stories like this haven’t had much headway with the Pulitzer Prize. Less remains the only specifically queer story that has won. And sure, one can hope the Pulitzer Board will cath up–or at least show support for the LGBTQ+ community by recognizing one of its literary voices. But will they do that for a book that feels way more Scottish than American? Stuart has lived in the United States for a long time, but his fiction still reflects his coming of age in Thatcher-era Scotland. That makes this book two different kinds of tough sell.

Don’t Cry For Me, Daniel Black 

From the blurb: “With piercing insight and profound empathy, acclaimed author Daniel Black illuminates the lived experiences of Black fathers and queer sons, offering an authentic and ultimately hopeful portrait of reckoning and reconciliation. Spare as it is sweeping, poetic as it is compulsively readable, Don’t Cry for Me is a monumental novel about one family grappling with love’s hard edges and the unexpected places where hope and healing take flight.”

The case for it: this was one of my favorite reads of 2022. My heart would love to see it earn some recognition.

The case against it: … but my heart doesn’t decide who wins the Pulitzer. In the real world, Don’t Cry For Me never managed to get much attention.


Only four people have won two Pulitzer Prizes for Fiction, which means that it is incredibly difficult to win for a second time. As such, you can consider all of these longshots with extra gravitas. Still, Colson Whitehead pulled off a second win only three years ago. That shows that the current Board is at least willing to consider awarding a second Pulitzer. Maybe it will become easier in the future?

The Candy House, Jennifer Egan

From the blurb: ” Intellectually dazzling, The Candy House is also a moving testament to the tenacity and transcendence of human longing for connection, family, privacy, and love.”

The case for it: if any previous winner is going to repeat, Egan seems to have made the strongest bid. Her book is the best-received in this category. Many people were a bit confused about whether or not A Visit From the Goon Squad needed a quasi-sequel at all, and Egan seems to have settled the issue by exceeding expectations.

The case against it: Goon Squad was hailed as a visionary book when it was first published (and won a Pulitzer), but over time conversation around it became a bit more mixed. Nothing kills something visionary like giving it time and space to see if that vision bears out. Maybe that means people would be more hesitant about rewarding Candy House? But then again, the critical response to Candy House seems to have swung discourse around Goon Squad back to the positive. But there is still that “already won” hurdle.

Less Is Lost, Andrew Sean Greer 

From the blurb: “With all of the irrepressible wit and musicality that made Less a bestselling, Pulitzer Prize-winning, must-read breakout book, Less Is Lost is a profound and joyous novel about the enigma of life in America, the riddle of love, and the stories we tell along the way.”

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The case for it: Less was a surprise winner in 2018–first because it’s the only explicitly queer book to win, but also because it’s a comedy (not the usual brand for the Pulitzer), and also because it was about a trip around the world. The only case you could make for it being about American life is if you buy into the idea that it’s a satire about Americans abroad (I don’t). Anyway, the odds were against Less and it won anyway. Maybe the sequel has better odds than it seems?

The case against it: it feels really unlikely that lightning would strike twice, even if Less Is Lost desperately wants to say something about American life.

The Passenger/Stella Maris, Cormac McCarthy 

From the blurb: “The Passenger is a fast-paced and sprawling novel while Stella Maris is a tightly controlled coda, told entirely in dialogue. Together they relate the thrilling story of a brother and sister, haunted by loss, pursued by conspiracy, and longing for a death they cannot reconcile with God.”

The case for it: releasing two linked novels in the same year was a bold creative gamble that appears to have paid off for Cormac McCarthy.

The case against it: will people know what to do with two books? It seems like people inclined to choose opt for The Passenger, but even if the Pulitzer Board were to follow suit, it would feel like only rewarding half of the story.

French Braid, Anne Tyler 

From the blurb: “Full of heartbreak and hilarity, French Braid is classic Anne Tyler: a stirring, uncannily insightful novel of tremendous warmth and humor that illuminates the kindnesses and cruelties of our daily lives, the impossibility of breaking free from those who love us, and how close–yet how unknowable–every family is to itself.”

The case for it: Anne Tyler’s Pulitzer Prize for Breathing Lessons was 34 years ago. That’s plenty of time for a prize to feel like new ground for her again. The Pulitzer sometimes loves to reward books that reflect the beauty in everyday life, and that’s Anne Tyler’s wheelhouse.

The case against it: Tyler was in the running for a Pulitzer several times in the 80s, but hasn’t been for a long time. Maybe that means most people think her best work is behind her?

Horse, Geraldine Brooks 

From the blurb: “Based on the remarkable true story of the record-breaking thoroughbred Lexington, Horse is a novel of art and science, love and obsession, and our unfinished reckoning with racism.”

The case for it: it feels like Brooks has managed to maintain more of a profile with high literature folks than Tyler–as evidenced by Horse‘s ALA Notable mention.

The case against it: it doesn’t feel like enough people got excited by Horse for this to feel at all likely.

Lucy By the Sea, Elizabeth Strout

From the blurb: “At the heart of this story are the deep human connections that unite us even when we’re apart–the pain of a beloved daughter’s suffering, the emptiness that comes from the death of a loved one, the promise of a new friendship, and the comfort of an old, enduring love.”

The case for it: Elizabeth Strout’s reputation for smart, insightful, and deeply empathetic writing has only grown since she won a Pulitzer for Olive Kitteridge. And Strout’s last book, Oh William!, was a Booker finalist. With appreciation for her work on the rise, maybe it’s not so unbelievable that she would become the fifth writer (and first woman) to win two Pulitzer Prizes for Fiction.

The case against it: I would feel better about her odds if this weren’t the fourth book in a series. But Oh William! was the third book in that series and it still became a finalist for the Booker Prize (… but it didn’t win).


Back in December, it felt like this was shaping up to be a two-way race between Trust and Demon Copperhead, but it feels like Trust has been pulling ahead ever since. I’d kind of been hoping that dynamic would have continued right up until the announcement itself because it’s genuinely fun to watch two titans battle it out. Oh well.

Here’s the thing. My heart wants to predict Demon Copperhead because it’s my favorite–and I really think it would be a great winner. And I’ve gone with my heart a lot in recent years with my prediction (at least partially because it’s so hard to guess). But my heart doesn’t have a great track record. And I’m growing a little cynical about how the Pulitzer just hasn’t gone to many women authors over the last two decades (again: only six!). So it starts to feel like I’m setting myself up for failure if I guess Demon Copperhead, although I sincerely hope I’m wrong. And while I could go with one of the other frontrunners, they’re both by female authors as well.

My next instinct is to bypass Trust to choose a book that would be a surprise–because frontrunners have had an even worse track record with the Pulitzer than female authors over the last twenty years (again: it’s only happened four times). But which one do I pick? They all have something that makes them feel unlikely. Maybe I go with my heart’s next choice, Night of the Living Rez? But it’s both a debut novel and a collection of linked stories, which makes me hesitate.

Maybe I should just throw all caution to the wind and predict Don’t Cry For Me. But I might as well not make a prediction at all at that point, because I don’t think that will happen.

That takes me back to the ultimate frontrunner, and I ask myself if I’m so reluctant to predict it because I just didn’t like the book very much. And while I don’t think that’s entirely true (frontrunners really do have a difficult time here), there’s probably something to it.

So with a resigned sigh, I’m giving my prediction to Hernan Diaz and Trust.

We’ll find out on May 8. And if Demon Copperhead pulls it off, listen for the sound of me doing a heartfelt happy dance.

Who Will Win the 2023 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction?

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