A few hours ago, the 2009 Pulitzer prizes were announced at Columbia University. The Pulitzer prize, as if any one didn't know, is an annual award given as a token of accomplishment in three major categories: Journalism, Letters and Drama and Musical Composition. Each category also has numerous sub-divisions. The Pulitzer is an American award, and tends to favor subjects that deal specifically with American life. The winners also receive the lovely added bonus of $10,000.
The 2009 winner for Fiction was Elizabeth Strout's novel Olive Kitteridge. Kitteriage is Strout's third novel, and is about a woman unhappy with the changes that have happened in her small Maine town, and the world at large. At same time, Olive is unaware of the rather dire turns in the lives of those she knows. Through the novel Kitteridge "is brought to a deeper understanding of herself" and the novel "offers profound insights into the human condition–its conflicts, its tragedies and joys, and the endurance it requires." The two finalists that were chosen were Plague of Doves by Louise Erdrich and All Souls by Christine Schutt. The former is about the struggle over land between Whites and Native Americans in North Dakota, and the latter about a harrowing work about a senior at an all girls private school struggling with a rare cancer.
Here is what makes me happy about this year's winners for best fiction: I know nothing about any of them! I had been looking up different projections about which novels might take the prize this year, and with new releases from Toni Morrison, John Updike, Philip Roth and Joyce Carol Oates it seemed like it should have been a competitive year by all appearances. Yet, I've seen criticism that Morrison's A Mercy was retreading familiar territory for Morrison as an author. Updike's The Widows of Eastwick I've seen blasted a hundred different places. Anyone who's been reading my blog knows how I felt about Roth's Indignation. As for Oates' new book I haven't heard anything at all, but at the rate she puts work out, who can keep up?
Even if those four pillars of modern fiction had each put out stunning works, it's better to see less prominent writers win. After all, the Pulitzer is one of the means by which the greats of our time are chosen. The fact that the award was wasn't given to one of literature's favored sons or daughters also demonstrates how much harder it is to earn your metal when the playing field is level. It's rewarding to see that pieces aren't simply chosen by the committee because said authors did stunning work in the past.
The prize for Drama went to a play entitled Ruined by Lynn Nottage that vividly and horrifically detailed the Congo as a warzone proliferated by such terrible acts as "rape and brutality". The finalists were Gina Gionfriddo's Becky Shaw, a comedy about familial and romantic relationships and Lin-Manuel Miranda and Quiara Alegria Hudes' 2008 Tony winning musical In The Heights that "celebrates the virtues of sacrifice, family solidarity and gritty optimism." You can listen to a sampling of In The Heights on Youtube here. As for the others, I haven't ever heard of them, but that's bound to change now that movie producers are sure to have their eyes on them. I probably should know them considering that's pretty much my field.
If you're interested some of the winners that were annouced today you can look them up here.
Still, I'm curious. In taking a look at the previous winners of the Pulitzer, I noticed that there were a stunning few I have actually read. In fact, the extent of the list is this: To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (1961), The Killer Angels by Michael Sharra (1975), and The Road by Cormac McCarthy (2006). How many Pulitzer prize winners have you read? Do you believe the Pulitzer is a good indicator of merrit? Do you feel compelled/want to read any of this year's winners? Have you read them?