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Colson Whitehead wins second fiction Pulitzer, Ben Moser’s ‘Sontag’ wins for biography

Colson Whitehead won his second Pulitzer Prize in fiction for his novel "The Nickel Boys," making him the first recipient to win for back-to-back novels.
(Chris Close)

Colson Whitehead took the Pulitzer Prize in fiction Monday for his novel “The Nickel Boys,” published by Doubleday.

The Pulitzer committee lauded “The Nickel Boys” as “a spare and devastating exploration of abuse at a reform school in Jim Crow-era Florida that is ultimately a powerful tale of human perseverance, dignity and redemption.” Whitehead’s second Pulitzer win marks the first double victory for an author of back-to-back novels.

“It’s pretty nuts!” Whitehead said by email. “I’m very honored and I hope that it raises awareness of the real life model for the novel — The Dozier School for Boys — so that the victims and their stories are not forgotten.”

In addition to the Pulitzer, “The Nickel Boys” won the Kirkus Prize for fiction and was a New York Times bestseller. It was also a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award and was longlisted for a National Book Award and the Carnegie Medal.

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Whitehead, who lives in New York City and has written seven wide-ranging novels, won his first fiction Pulitzer in 2017 for his novel “The Underground Railroad,” which is currently being adapted for television by Barry Jenkins.

Benjamin Moser won a Pulitzer for his biography “Sontag: Her Life and Work,” about the prominent author and cultural critic Susan Sontag, published by Harper Collins.

The Pulitzer committee cited the biography as “an authoritatively constructed work told with pathos and grace that captures the writer’s genius and humanity alongside her addiction, sexual ambiguities and volatile enthusiasms.”

Moser is a former books columnist for Harper’s Magazine and the New York Times Book Review and has written for the New Yorker, Condé Nast Traveler and the New York Review of Books.

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Jericho Brown won the Pulitzer for his third collection of poetry, “The Tradition,” published by Copper Canyon Press.

“The Tradition,” which also won the Paterson Poetry Prize and was a finalist for the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award, was described by the committee as “masterful lyrics that combine delicacy and historical urgency in their loving evocation of bodies vulnerable to hostility and violence.”

Brown is a professor and the director of the creative writing program at Emory University. His poems have appeared in the New Republic, the New York Times, the New Yorker, the Paris Review, Time magazine and several volumes of the Best American Poetry.

The Pulitzer committee announced a tie between general nonfiction finalists Anne Boyer and Greg Grandin for “The Undying” and “The End of the Myth: From the Frontier to the Border Wall in the Mind of America,” respectively.

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“The Undying” was praised as “an elegant and unforgettable narrative about the brutality of illness and the capitalism of cancer care in America.” “The End of the Myth” was hailed for being “a sweeping and beautifully written book that probes the American myth of boundless expansion and provides a compelling context for thinking about the current political moment.”

“The Undying,” published by Macmillan, chronicles Boyer’s experience battling highly aggressive triple-negative breast cancer as a single mother living from paycheck to paycheck. “The End of the Myth,” also published by Macmillan, explores American history from the American Revolution to the election of 2016; it was longlisted for a 2019 National Book Award.

Boyer, a poet and essayist, is a professor at the Kansas City Art Institute. Grandin is now a professor of history at Yale University.


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