US writer Colson Whitehead’s book about slavery wins the fiction Pulitzer for 2017
Here’s the list of winners in the drama, history, nonfiction, autobiography/biography, poetry and music categories.books Updated: Apr 14, 2017 08:29 IST
Here’s the list of winners in the drama, history, nonfiction, autobiography/biography, poetry and music categories.
Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad, his celebrated novel about an escaped slave that combined liberating imagination and brutal reality, has won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction.
The announcement confirmed the book as the literary event of 2016, an Oprah Winfrey book club pick and critical favourite that received the US National Book Award last year. It is the first time in more than 20 years that the same work won the Pulitzer and National Book Award for fiction.
Whitehead, known for such explorations of American myth and history as “John Henry Days,” conceived his novel with what he calls a “goofy idea:” Take the so-called Underground Railroad of history, the network of escape routes to freedom, and make it an actual train. He wove his fantasy together with a too-believable story of a young girl’s flight from a plantation.
Whitehead finished The Underground Railroad well before Donald Trump’s election but now finds parallels with the present. “I think the book deals with white supremacy as a foundational error in the country’s history and that foundational error is being played out now in the White House,” he said.
“When I was writing the book I wasn’t thinking about current events, but I think you have to look at it differently now.”
Other winners announced also touched upon race and class, in the present and in the past.
Lynn Nottage’s Sweat, which won in the drama category, explores how the shutdown of a Pennsylvania factory leads to the breakdown of friendship and family, and a devastating cycle of violence, prejudice, poverty and drugs.
The play marks Nottage’s Broadway debut and her second Pulitzer Prize. She is the writer of Intimate Apparel, ‘‘By The Way, Meet Vera Stark and Ruined, which also won the Pulitzer.
“I was looking at how poverty and economic stagnation was beginning to shift our American narrative and how a culture was crying out,” Nottage said. “I’m very honoured. I’m in a bit of a daze.”
The history winner Heather Ann Thompson’s Blood in the Water: The Attica Prison Uprising of 1971 and Its Legacy, examines the events that unfolded starting September 9, 1971, when nearly 1,300 prisoners took over the Attica Correctional Facility in upstate New York to protest years of mistreatment.
The work reveals the crimes committed during the uprising and its aftermath, who committed them, and how they were covered up.
The general nonfiction winner was Matthew Desmond’s Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City, set in Milwaukee and praised by the Pulitzer board as “a deeply researched expose that showed how mass evictions after the 2008 economic crash were less a consequence than a cause of poverty.”
Desmond, who last month won a National Book Critics Circle award, said that he hoped his book would illuminate both the severity of the crisis and the role of government. “You look at a public housing tower and a mortgaged suburban home,” he told the Associated Press. “Both are government subsidised, but they don’t look anything alike. We seem a lot more willing to spend money on tax write-offs than on direct assistance.”
Hisham Matar’s The Return: Fathers, Sons and the Land in Between won for biography/autobiography; the Pulitzer board said that Matar’s memoir about his native Libya “examines with controlled emotion the past and present of an embattled region.”
Tyehimba Jess’ Oilo was the poetry winner, cited for melding performance art with poetry “to explore collective memory and challenge contemporary notions of race and identity.”
The Pulitzer board gave the music award to Du Yun’s Angel’s Bone and called it a “bold” work which “integrates vocal and instrumental elements and a wide range of styles into a harrowing allegory for human trafficking in the modern world.”
You can look at the complete list of winners and finalists in all categories here.
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First Published: Apr 11, 2017 15:31 IST