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Pulitzer winner Egan fascinated by change
NEW YORK | Jennifer Egan’s inventive novel about the passage of time, “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.”
Ms. Egan, 48, 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,” set in the digital upending of the music industry. Earlier this year, Ms. Egan won the National Book Critics Circle prize for the book, which experiments with format, notably in a long section structured like a PowerPoint presentation.
“The book is so much about how change is unexpected and always kind of shocking,” she says by phone. Ms. Egan says she was inspired by Marcel Proust’s sprawling novel “Remembrance of Things Past,” which explores the passage of time.
“His book of time is all about how the work of time is unpredictable and in some sense unfathomable,” she says. “So there’s no question that winning a prize like this feels unpredictable and unfathomable.”
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.”
“I’m deeply honored and totally flabbergasted to receive this recognition,” says Mr. Norris, who was staying on an island off the coast of Maine when he learned of the win. He thanked the Steppenwolf Theatre Company in Chicago for 10 years of support.
The Pulitzer for history was awarded to “The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery” by Eric Foner, a Columbia University professor who has won multiple honors for a career focused on the Lincoln era and Reconstruction. Mr. Foner, 68, calls the latest prize a capstone for his career.
“The Pulitzer has a kind of broader importance and stature, suggesting that your book is appreciated by a wider audience, a non-scholarly audience,” Mr. Foner says in a telephone interview from London, where he is teaching this semester.
He says it can be intimidating approaching a book on Lincoln, who has been written about so much before. But he says many Lincoln books either try to put the Civil War president on a pedestal or tear him down, and he was trying to get a balanced view on a specific topic seen through the lens of that period in history.
Ron Chernow, a New York-based historian who has written about Alexander Hamilton and John D. Rockefeller, won the Pulitzer for biography for “Washington: A Life,” about the nation’s first president. It’s his first Pulitzer Prize.
“I am really quite flabbergasted and quite thrilled,” Mr. Chernow says. The historian worked for six years on the project, reading about 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 won the poetry prize for “The Best of It: New and Selected Poems,” a book called by the Pulitzer board “a treasure trove of an iconoclastic and joyful mind.” Ms. Ryan was U.S. poet laureate from 2008 to 2010.
“It comes with a really big car, doesn’t it? Don’t you get a Humvee? The poet’s car?” she jokes by phone while pacing in her kitchen in San Francisco. The book spans 45 years of her compressed, witty, often humorous poetry.
“Since my nature was not very compatible with the tastes of my time, I had to find ways to express what must be expressed in poetry, which is the activity of the mind and the heart,” she says. “I suppose it sounds like a cliche, but poetry came and got me. I came to it very reluctantly, but it insisted.”
By Tom Fitton
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White House pets gone wild!
Let it snow