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One of the symbols of our age is the mass of mediocrity upon whose brow the laurels are placed, whose voices are heard in the high places. In every field hasty, dishonest, and superficial criticism flourishes, and as the inevitable consequence, equally faulty and unmerited praise. The arts are the gravest sufferers in this respect, as the apathy of the public leads them to accept supinely, as Olympian, the judgments of the numerous committees founded to ferret but and annually reward the best work done. Chief among these, and the one whose decisions carry the most weight with the people, is the Pulitzer Prize Committee.
The awards of this Committee in the field of literature, within the past few years have been blind and undiscriminating. This year's choices were no exception. Despite the approving babble of occupants of University chairs in poetics on its announcement, the poetry award went to a woman, a sort of minor Edna Millay, whose poems are completely negligible. They are readable and sufficiently sentimental to be a popular choice; they have a certain dexterity and gloss, often substituted for technical superiority and thought, easily overcoming the defences of mediocre critics, but they are hopelessly trivial. These triumphs in the treble of Marya Zaturenska and the glibness of Robert Hillyer have evidently rung louder in the cars of the Pulitzer Committee in recent years than the works of such really outstanding American poets as Tate, Stevens, Eberhart and Ransom, all of whom are of immeasurably greater stature.
The novel receiving the award is cast in the same mold of undistinguishable mediocrity, harmless, until it is puffed up as a great American work of art. Herein lies the evil: the Pulitzer Committee by putting its stamp of approval on such flimsy material, sets a standard of mediocrity which is believed and accepted in the nation as the best. Their prizes throw an effective smoke screen over the strong efforts in American writing, permitting persevering incompetents and academic rhymesters to practice their lack of art in the spotlight of public approval. It is true that they stir up public interest, but they focus its attention on second rate efforts and obscure the good. Better far that the prize money and attendant publicity be withheld on years in which there is nothing outstanding than that they be awarded to shallow and pretentious material. Unless men are selected to serve on the Committee who have the courage, energy, and above all, the awareness to look below the surface, the Pulitzer Prizes were better abolished altogether.
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