2018 Pulitzer Prize Winners Announced

On Monday, April 16, the 2018 Pulitzer Prize winners were announced before a hushed crowd in the recently renovated Joseph Pulitzer World Room at Columbia University’s Pulitzer Hall. The announcement was made by Dana Canedy, administrator of the awards and herself someone to be celebrated. Formerly a senior editor at the New York Times, where she was part of a team that won the 2001 Pulitzer Prize in national reporting, Canedy was appointed in July 2017 as the first woman and first person of color to serve as awards administrator.

Altogether 14 journalism and seven letters, drama, and music awards were presented, the former covering topics ranging from sexual harassment to domestic terrorist Dylann Roof and the latter, said Canedy, signifying “the impact of arts and letters on American culture.”

The book prizes proved satisfying if not completely surprising.

With his fiction win for Less (Lee Boudreaux: Little, Brown), the story of a midlist novelist avoiding a former lover’s marriage by traveling to literary events worldwide, Andrew Sean Greer finally lays claim to a major title, though he’s been an NYPL Young Lion and received best book honors for Less from the Washington Post and the San Francisco Chronicle. Prize rules specify that the fiction honor go to a book “preferably dealing with American life,” but Greer deals more broadly with issues of aging and self-worth. Ironically, his protagonist, Arthur Less, is best known for his early liaison with a Pulitzer Prize–winning author, suffering comparisons that make him feel less worthy—a problem Greer won’t have.

The biography award went to Caroline Fraser’s Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder, a National Book Critics Award winner and New York Times Best Book; the poetry award, to Frank Bidart’s Half-light: Collected Poems 1965-2016 (Farrar), a National Book Award winner; and the general nonfiction award, to James Forman Jr.’s Locking Up Our Own: Crime and Punishment in Black America (Farrar), a New York Times Best Book and Los Angeles Times Book Prize finalist.

Forman’s work, which examines how response by African Americans to trauma within their own communities inadvertently led to the contentious issue of mass incarceration, was also short-listed for the Inaugural Goddard Riverside Stephan Russo Book Prize for Social Justice. The U.S. history prize winner, Jack E. Davis’s The Gulf: The Making of an American Sea (Liveright: Norton), which ranges from the Pleistocene era to the Deepwater Horizon disaster and beyond, also won the Kirkus Prize for Nonfiction.

Music and drama were the big surprises, with gasps meeting the announcement of the music award. The winner is rapper Kendrick Lamar’s DAMN., the first time a classical or jazz composer hasn’t won. Martyna Majok’s Cost of Living, a play about physical disability that opened Off Broadway at the Manhattan Theater Club in June 2017, won the drama award. Majok, a Polish immigrant who saw her first play after winning some money playing pool, won against some formidable competition, with Obie Award winner and previous Pulitzer finalist Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’s Everybody and previous Pulitzer winner Tracy Letts’s The Minutes this year’s drama finalists.

Canedy proved to be a congenial host, especially during the Q&A session, when she responded to urgent questions from a group of female high school students from the News Literacy Project by assuring them that news reporting and news reporters will be more diverse in the future. In general, she emphasized that whatever changes come in reporting and in the awards process (e.g., rules were changed this year so that coverage needn’t be from a local publication), the main point is that “the work speaks for itself.” For more on the winners, see 2018 Pulitzer Prizes.

 

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Barbara Hoffert About Barbara Hoffert

Barbara Hoffert (bhoffert@mediasourceinc.com, @BarbaraHoffert on Twitter) is Editor, LJ Prepub Alert; past chair of the Materials Selection Committee of the RUSA (Reference and User Services Assn.) division of the American Library Association; and past president, treasurer, and awards chair of the National Book Critics Circle.

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