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The general nonfiction prize was given to “The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer” by Siddhartha Mukherjee, an oncologist and assistant professor of medicine at Columbia. It is his first book and he found out he’d won the Pulitzer while sitting alone in a bookstore in New York.

“It’s the most incredible experience of my lifetime,” he said. “One of the reasons I wrote the book was to demystify cancer. One of the things that patients often feel is that the mystery itself becomes a kind of stigma. And I tried to get away from that without simplifying it.”

The music prize went to Zhou Long for “Madame White Snake,” which was hailed as “a deeply expressive opera that draws on a Chinese folk tale to blend the musical traditions of the East and the West.” It made its debut in February 2010 in a performance by the Boston Opera. Zhou was chosen to write the music by Cerise Lim Jacobs, who wrote the opera’s libretto.

The Pulitzers in journalism, letters, drama and music are given out annually by Columbia University on the recommendation of a 19-person board and each award carries a $10,000 prize.

Finalists in the fiction category included The Privileges” by Jonathan Dee and “The Surrendered” by Chang-Rae Lee. Jonathan Franzen, whose novel “Freedom” was the most talked about literary novel of 2010, did not make the list.

Finalists for the drama prize included the Broadway-bound play “Detroit” by Lisa D’Amour and the sprawling “A Free Man of Color” by John Guare, which was produced at Lincoln Center.

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AP Television Writer David Bauder and AP Music Writer Nekesa Mumby Moody contributed to this report.

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Online: http://www.pulitzer.org