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2020 Pulitzer Picks: “The Nickel Boys” Makes History, “A Strange Loop” and Susan Sontag Bio Take Gold



Prizes for Art and Thought Still Matter in a World Afflicted by a Pandemic

In a world marred by pandemic, awards ceremonies linked to artistic or intellectual achievements may seem like a fantasies. Nevertheless, such roadblocks have not stopped the Pulitzer committee from announcing their prestigious prize recipients for 2020.

Pulitzer Prizes are awarded every year in twenty-one categories. They are given for outstanding American achievements in journalism, literature, and music composition. Every year showcases immeasurable talent, and this year is no different. The New York Times and The New Yorker racked up the majority of newspaper and magazine awards. However, The Baltimore Sun won for local reporting and Kentucky’s The Courier-Journal won for best breaking news reporting.

Meanwhile, the general nonfiction category saw a tie between Anne Boyer’s “The Undying” and Greg Grandin’s “The End of the Myth: From the Frontier to the Border Wall in the Mind of America.” Jericho Brown won the poetry prize for his collection of poems “The Tradition” and W. Caleb McDaniel won in history for “Sweet Taste of Liberty: A True Story of Slavery and Restitution in America.” Simultaneously, Anthony Davis won in music for his opera “The Central Park Five.”

The biggest win of the year, however, went to Colson Whitehead in the fiction category for his bestselling novel “The Nickel Boys.” At just 224 pages, “The Nickel Boys” is short but strong. A piece of historical-fiction, in chronicles the story of two boys attending a reform boarding school in Florida at the height of the Jim Crowe era. The book is a brutally honest portrait of race relations in America, and it brings to the foreground some haunting aspects of our nation’s past that many modern citizens tragically overlook.

Colson Whitehead’s win was even more momentous because the author won the Pulitzer Prize for his last book as well, 2017’s Civil War novel “The Underground Railroad.” Whitehead’s second win puts him in a very elite category of two-time Pulitzer fiction prize winners. The only other authors to have earned the honor more than once were William Faulkner, Booth Tarkington, and John Updike. However, none of these iconic writers ever won the title for two consecutive books, making Whitehead a trendsetter.

Aside from Whitestand’s groundbreaking achievement in fiction, the 2020 Pulitzers also made some noise in the drama category, giving the award to playwright Michael R. Jackson for his musical “A Strange Loop.” The play follows the story of an overweight gay blackman who aspires to greatness despite feeling constantly out of place in the world. An all-black ensemble cast accompanies him, personifying his inner conflicts throughout.

The fact that a musical won in the drama category is noteworthy in and of itself, as the Pulitzer committee rarely considers the genre. Nevertheless, it is the vital, somewhat radical content of “A Strange Loop” that truly makes it a worthy victor.

Lastly (but certainly not least), this year’s biography award went to a new Susan Sontag biography by Benjamin Moser. “Sontag: Her Life And Work” is Moser’s third book, and only his second biography. The book spares no detail in sharing the late writer’s amazing life, dissecting her unparalleled multidisciplinary contributions and her profound intellectual prowess across the twentieth century.

These picks for the Pulitzer Prize, along with all the others, are groundbreaking literary and journalistic achievements. Happily, this year’s winners offered a plethora of diverse content, with stories that celebrate different perspectives and share unsung outlooks. This bodes well for future of American letters.

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