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Instead, Ryan forged a witty, profound and compressed style that often using a “recombinant” rhyming style. She was the U.S. poet laureate from 2008 to 2010.

“The Best of It” collects poems from 45 years of her career.


GENERAL NONFICTION: “The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer,” by Dr. Siddhartha Mukherjee (Scribner).

Mukherjee’s first book chronicles a 4,000-year history of cancer, charting its treatment and misunderstandings, while also telling the stories of many patients.

An oncologist and assistant professor of medicine at Columbia University, Mukherjee was moved to write it when a patient asked him to describe just what it was he was fighting. The Pulitzer board called it “an elegant inquiry, at once clinical and personal.”

Mukherjee said he wanted to “demystify” cancer “so that people don’t feel as if they’re victimized by stigma and mystery.”

The Indian-born Mukherjee is married to the MacArthur award-winning artist Sarah Sze, with whom he has two daughters.


MUSIC: Zhou Long, “Madame White Snake.”

“Madame White Snake” made its debut on Feb. 26, 2010, in a performance by the Boston Opera. The opera is based on a Chinese fable about a demon snake that turns itself into a beautiful woman to experience love, only to see an idyllic life with the man of her dreams collapse after her true identity is revealed.

Zhou was chosen to write the music by Cerise Lim Jacobs, who wrote the opera’s libretto.

The 57-year-old Zhou was born in Beijing but has been an American citizen for years. He is known for melding Eastern and Western traditions in music and is a professor at the University of Missouri-Kansas City’s Conservatory of Music and Dance.

Conservatory Dean Peter Witte said it’s the school’s first Pulitzer in music.

“We lift our arms in celebration, and we celebrate what we already knew which is that we have one of the great composition programs in the world,” he said.