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Tuesday, April 16, 2013

2013 Pulitzer Prize Winners Announced!

The Pulitzer Prize is administered every year by Columbia University as an award for excellence in journalism, letters, and music. The award began in 1917 at the behest of publisher Joseph Pulitzer. I look forward to the announcement of Pulitzer winners in the category of letters every year; however, it was with an excess of enthusiasm that I awaited the decision on the prize for fiction. Not only was one of my favorite books of last year, The Orphan Master's Son by Adam Johnson, nominated for the award but there was a major controversy within this category last year. The judges decided not to award any of the three nominees in the fiction category with a prize. The literary world was up in arms! So, I have been waiting for this year's results anxiously. I was thrilled when I heard that Adam Johnson's book had won; having a book that I have championed and recommended to many customers win the prize was exciting.

Prize for Biography
Tom Reiss' The Black Count is a story that seems too fantastic to be real. Alex Dumas was born in Haiti from the union of a slave woman and a French nobleman on the run from the crown. He lived briefly as a slave but eventually travelled to Paris rising through the ranks of the military and joing the French aristocracy. The novels of his son, Alexandre Dumas, immortalized his life, but until Reiss work very little of the elder Dumas has been known. The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo is peopled with the swashbuckling rogues we've come to expect in adventure novels, but it also tells a greater story of race, revolution, and fatherhood.

Prize for History
The body of literature surrounding the Vietnam war is huge, but Embers of War by Fredrik Logevall looks at the war differenly than most of the works we have seen by soldiers and historians. What surprised me most about Logevall's book is the fact that it studies the years 1919 to 1959. The American idea of the Vietnam War usually has it taking place between the years of 1955 to 1975, so it becomes clear immediately that Logevall wants to tell a different story. Logevall looks at historical records to determine the missteps and miscalculations that all culminated in the disaster of war.

Prize for Poetry
Marriage is, to me, the idea that you are everything to just one other person. To lose that person through death or divorce is a struggle that I cannot imagine. In Sharon Olds new collection, Stag's Leap, she writes of her husband leaving her for another woman after thirty years. Olds opening herself to pain, fear, and renewal makes for a powerful collection of poems.

Prize for Nonfiction
With many great historical figures their life as a whole tends to overshadow the independent aspects. That Thurgood Marshall was the first African-American Supreme Court Justice will forever be the first thing associated with his long and influencial life. In Devil in the Grove Gilbert King takes us years before that appointment and even before the landmark case of Brown v. Board of Education to show Marshall fighting for the life of a young man accused of a murder he did not commit. A man like Thurgood Marshall is not greater than the sum of his parts; it is his striving toward greatness in all things that made him the man he was. It is the in our battles both large and small that we become who we are. Devil in the Grove: Thurgood Marshall, the Groveland Boys, and the Dawn of a New America is a story about one man's battle for life, another man's battle for justice, and the battle for equality in America.

Prize for Fiction
The Orphan Master's Son by Adam Johnson pulled me in so many directions. First there are the horrors of life in North Korea which are almost hard to believe. Then there is the truth of politics and fear mongering and the realization that no one is too far from this sort of life. And finally there is the will of the human spirit, the inevitability of death, and the question of just how much one can take. This novel is very well written and very, very intense. It was often hard to read but I could never put it down. I was completely invested in the lives of Jun Do and Sun Moon.

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