Jennifer Egan's inventive novel about the passage of time,
A Visit from the Goon Squad,
won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction, honoured for its "big-hearted curiosity about cultural change at warp speed."
Egan, 48, has been highly praised for her searching and unconventional narratives about modern angst and identity. Her other novels include The Invisible Circus, Look at Me and The Keep.
Critics were especially taken with A Visit From the Goon Squad, with its leaps across time and its experiments with format, notably a long section structured like a PowerPoint presentation. Earlier this year, she won the National Book Critics Circle prize.
"The book is so much about how change is unexpected and always kind of shocking," she said by phone. Egan said she was inspired by Marcel Proust's sprawling novel Remembrance of Things Past, which explored the passage of time.
"His book of time is all about how the work of time is unpredictable and in some sense unfathomable," she said. "So there's no question that winning a prize like this feel unpredictable and unfathomable."
The play Clybourne Park by Bruce Norris, which examines race relations and the effects of modern gentrification, won the drama prize.
The work imagines what might have happened to the family that moved out of the house in the fictitious Chicago neighbourhood of Clybourne Park, which is where Lorraine Hansberry's Younger clan is headed by the end of her 1959 play A Raisin in the Sun.
"I'm deeply honoured and totally flabbergasted to receive this recognition," said Norris, who was staying on an island off the coast of Maine when he learned of the win. He thanked the Steppenwolf Theatre Company in Chicago for 10 years of support.
The Pulitzer for history was awarded to The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery by Eric Foner. It was cited as "a well orchestrated examination of Lincoln's changing views of slavery, bringing unforeseeable twists and a fresh sense of improbability to a familiar story."
Ron Chernow, a New York-based historian who has written about Alexander Hamilton and John D Rockefeller in the past, won the Pulitzer for biography for Washington: A Life, about the nation's first president. It's his first Pulitzer Prize.
"I am really quite flabbergasted and quite thrilled," Chernow said.
The historian worked for six years on the project, reading some 35,000 to 40,000 pages of material on Washington and 125 books about people and events from Washington's time. Contest judges called it "a sweeping, authoritative portrait of an iconic leader."