NEW YORK (AP) - Jennifer Egan’s novel “A Visit from the Goon Squad” won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction Monday, honored for its “big-hearted curiosity about cultural change at warp speed.”
Egan, 48, a native of Chicago, has been highly praised for her searching and unconventional narratives about modern angst and identity. Her other novels include “The Invisible Circus,” “Look at Me” and “The Keep.”
Critics were especially taken with “A Visit From the Goon Squad,” with its leaps across time and its experiments with format, notably a long section structured like a PowerPoint presentation. Earlier this year, she won the National Book Critics Circle prize.
The play “Clybourne Park” by Bruce Norris, which examines race relations and the effects of modern gentrification, won the drama prize. The work imagines what might have happened to the family that moved out of the house in the fictitious Chicago neighborhood of Clybourne Park, which is where Lorraine Hansberry’s Younger clan is headed by the end of her 1959 play “A Raisin in the Sun.”
The Pulitzer for history was awarded to “The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery” by Eric Foner. It was cited as “a well orchestrated examination of Lincoln’s changing views of slavery, bringing unforeseeable twists and a fresh sense of improbability to a familiar story.”
Ron Chernow, a New York-based historian who has written about Alexander Hamilton and John D. Rockefeller in the past, won the Pulitzer for biography for “Washington: A Life,” about the nation’s first president. It is his first Pulitzer Prize.
“I am really quite flabbergasted and quite thrilled,” Chernow said. The historian worked for six years on the project, reading some 35,000 to 40,000 pages of material on Washington and 125 books about people and events from Washington’s time. Contest judges called it “a sweeping, authoritative portrait of an iconic leader.”
Kay Ryan’s “The Best of It: New and Selected Poems” won the poetry prize and was called “a treasure trove of an iconoclastic and joyful mind.” Ryan was U.S. Poet Laureate from 2008-2010.
“It comes with a really big car, doesn’t it? Don’t you get a Humvee? The poet’s car,” she joked while pacing in her kitchen in San Francisco. The book spans 45 years of her compressed, witty, often humorous poetry.
“All those things that I do, nobody was wanting to do them,” she said. “They were very much in disrepute. Things like employing wit, maybe really inviting people to laugh on occasion, messing around with a lot of rhyme. Well, I just couldn’t help it.”
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.”
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 “Detroit” by Lisa D’Amour and “A Free Man of Color” by John Guare, which was produced at Lincoln Center.