The 2018 Pulitzer Prizes were announced today. Established in 1917 by provisions in the will of newspaper publisher Joseph Pulitzer, prizes are awarded yearly in twenty-one categories. For our purposes, we’ll skip the journalism awards and focus on the Letters and Drama categories.
Less by Andrew Sean Greer
Who says you can’t run away from your problems? You are a failed novelist about to turn fifty. A wedding invitation arrives in the mail: your boyfriend of the past nine years is engaged to someone else. You can’t say yes—it would be too awkward—and you can’t say no—it would look like defeat. On your desk are a series of invitations to half-baked literary events around the world. QUESTION: How do you arrange to skip town? ANSWER: You accept them all. What would possibly go wrong?
Arthur Less will almost fall in love in Paris, almost fall to his death in Berlin, barely escape to a Moroccan ski chalet from a Saharan sandstorm, accidentally book himself as the (only) writer-in-residence at a Christian Retreat Center in Southern India, and encounter, on a desert island in the Arabian Sea, the last person on Earth he wants to face. Somewhere in there: he will turn fifty. Through it all, there is his first love. And there is his last.
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The Gulf: The Making of an American Sea by Jack E. Davis
Hailed as a “nonfiction epic . . . in the tradition of Jared Diamond’s best-seller Collapse, and Simon Winchester’s Atlantic” (Dallas Morning News), Jack E. Davis’s The Gulf is “by turns informative, lyrical, inspiring and chilling for anyone who cares about the future of America’s Sea” (Wall Street Journal). Illuminating America’s political and economic relationship with the environment from the age of the conquistadors to the present, Davis demonstrates how the Gulf’s fruitful ecosystems and exceptional beauty empowered a growing nation. Filled with vivid, untold stories from the sportfish that launched Gulfside vacationing to Hollywood’s role in the country’s first offshore oil wells, this “vast and welltold story shows how we made the Gulf . . . [into] a national sacrifice zone” (Bill McKibben). The first and only study of its kind, The Gulf offers “a unique and illuminating history of the American Southern coast and sea as it should be written” (Edward O. Wilson).
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Biography or Autobiography
Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder by Caroline Fraser
Millions of readers of Little House on the Prairie believe they know Laura Ingalls—the pioneer girl who survived blizzards and near-starvation on the Great Plains, and the woman who wrote the famous autobiographical books. But the true saga of her life has never been fully told. Now, drawing on unpublished manuscripts, letters, diaries, and land and financial records, Caroline Fraser—the editor of the Library of America edition of the Little House series—masterfully fills in the gaps in Wilder’s biography. Revealing the grown-up story behind the most influential childhood epic of pioneer life, she also chronicles Wilder’s tumultuous relationship with her journalist daughter, Rose Wilder Lane, setting the record straight regarding charges of ghostwriting that have swirled around the books.
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Half-light: Collected Poems 1965-2016 by Frank Bidart
Gathered together, the poems of Frank Bidart perform one of the most remarkable transmutations of the body into language in contemporary literature. His pages represent the human voice in all its extreme registers, whether it’s that of the child-murderer Herbert White, the obsessive anorexic Ellen West, the tormented genius Vaslav Nijinsky, or the poet’s own. And in that embodiment is a transgressive empathy, one that recognizes our wild appetites, the monsters, the misfits, the misunderstood among us and inside us. Few writers have so willingly ventured to the dark places of the human psyche and allowed themselves to be stripped bare on the page with such candor and vulnerability. Over the past half century, Bidart has done nothing less than invent a poetics commensurate with the chaos and appetites of our experience.
Locking Up Our Own: Crime and Punishment in Black America by James Forman Jr.
In recent years, America’s criminal justice system has become the subject of an increasingly urgent debate. Critics have assailed the rise of mass incarceration, emphasizing its disproportionate impact on people of color. As James Forman, Jr., points out, however, the war on crime that began in the 1970s was supported by many African American leaders in the nation’s urban centers. In Locking Up Our Own, he seeks to understand why.
Forman shows us that the first substantial cohort of black mayors, judges, and police chiefs took office amid a surge in crime and drug addiction. Many prominent black officials, including Washington, D.C. mayor Marion Barry and federal prosecutor Eric Holder, feared that the gains of the civil rights movement were being undermined by lawlessness—and thus embraced tough-on-crime measures, including longer sentences and aggressive police tactics. In the face of skyrocketing murder rates and the proliferation of open-air drug markets, they believed they had no choice. But the policies they adopted would have devastating consequences for residents of poor black neighborhoods.
A former D.C. public defender, Forman tells riveting stories of politicians, community activists, police officers, defendants, and crime victims. He writes with compassion about individuals trapped in terrible dilemmas—from the men and women he represented in court to officials struggling to respond to a public safety emergency. Locking Up Our Own enriches our understanding of why our society became so punitive and offers important lessons to anyone concerned about the future of race and the criminal justice system in this country.