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Archive for Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Tales of gender, race honored with prizes

April 21, 2009

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— Stories of race and gender prevailed at this year’s Pulitzer Prizes, with “Ruined,” Lynn Nottage’s harrowing tale of survival set against the backdrop of an African civil war, winning for drama Monday and books about slavery, civil rights and Andrew Jackson also receiving awards.

In a victory for the short story, Elizabeth Strout’s “Olive Kitteridge,” a collection set in Maine and linked by the forthright title character, a math teacher and general scold with an understanding heart. It was the first book of stories to win since 2000 (Jhumpa Lahiri’s “Interpreter of Maladies”).

“I’m thrilled that stories are being recognized, whether they’re linked or not,” said Strout, who added that she is close to finishing a novel, describing it as “one big, long messy story.”

Three prize winners centered on racial history, from colonial times to the 20th century.

The general nonfiction award went to “Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II” by Douglas A. Blackmon, Atlanta bureau chief for The Wall Street Journal. Newsweek editor Jon Meacham won the biography prize for “American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House,” a best-seller about the populist president whose sympathy for the less fortunate never extended to slaves.

“Jackson represents the best and the worst of us,” Meacham said.

“It’s a huge honor for me,” Blackmon said of his Pulitzer, “but more importantly I hope it really validates the idea that this is a part of American history that we have ignored and neglected, and it’s time for a really dramatic reinterpretation of what happened to African-Americans during that period of time.”

Annette Gordon-Reed’s “The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family,” which received the National Book Award last fall, won for history. Gordon-Reed’s book documents the life and family of Sally Hemings, the slave girl who many believe had an intimate relationship with Thomas Jefferson.

“Race is something that people are quite focused upon,” said Gordon-Reed, currently in Sydney, Australia, for a conference of Thomas Jefferson scholars and scheduled to give a talk on President Obama. “It’s an internationally interesting subject. People here are fascinated by our history.”

Minimalist Steve Reich took the music prize for “Double Sextet,” an interweaving of two sextets that he calls “very, very rock and roll.”

W.S. Merwin received his second Pulitzer for poetry, for “The Shadow of Sirius.” In 1971, he won for “The Carrier of Ladders” and refused to accept the prize money in protest of the Vietnam War. This time, he’ll mark the day more quietly, celebrating with his dog while his wife is out of town.

“I think it’s wonderful when it happens, and if it doesn’t, I think of all the great people who didn’t get honored. And that’s a pretty good tradition too,” Merwin said.

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