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“I’m still kind of in a daze about it but I’m very excited,” she said by phone from Middletown, Conn., where she is teaching a playwriting workshop to undergraduates at Wesleyan University. “I’m really delighted that something that was a little off the beaten path was considered.”

Marable, a longtime professor at Columbia, died last year at age 60 just as “Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention” was being released. Years in the making, the book was widely praised, although some of Malcolm X’s children objected to the troubled portrait Marable offered of the activist’s marriage to Betty Shabazz.

“It is so rewarding to see Manning’s work honored as a landmark achievement in the documentation of 20th century American history,” Wendy Wolf, associate publisher at Viking, said in a statement.

Another long-term project, John Lewis Gaddis’ “George F. Kennan: An American Life,” won the Pulitzer for biography. Gaddis is a Yale University professor and leading Cold War scholar who began work on the Kennan book in the early 1980s. The project was delayed by Kennan’s longevity. Kennan, a founding Cold War strategist and a Pulitzer winner, was in his 70s at the time he authorized the book. He asked only that Gaddis wait until after his death.

Kennan lived to be 101.

“He was a prize-winning author himself, so he would have been pleased,” said Gaddis, whose biography also won the National Book Critics Circle award.

“Life on Mars,” by Tracy K. Smith, won the poetry prize. The book was inspired in part by the death of her father.

“This was a book that felt really important to me as I was writing it because on one level I was processing my private grief,” she said. “In a lot of ways the book is an elegy for my father, who passed away three years ago.”

The general nonfiction prize was given to “The Swerve: How the World Became Modern,” Stephen Greenblatt’s telling of the 15th century rediscovery of a masterpiece from ancient Rome, the poet Lucretius’ “De Rerum Natura” (“On the Nature of Things”). Lucretius was an Epicurean who rejected religion, believed that the world consisted of tiny particles and considered the fear of death unnecessary.

“This poem changed my life. But it also turned out to change all of our lives even though there’s no reason you or anyone else should have heard of it,” said Greenblatt, a Renaissance specialist who last fall won the National Book Award.

Kevin Puts’ “Silent Night: Opera in Two Acts” was honored for music. Puts’ debut opera, it was commissioned and premiered by the Minnesota Opera in Minneapolis on Nov. 12, 2011.

“When I was composing it, I felt like it was in some ways easier than anything I’ve ever written,” Puts said. “It just felt natural for me, my first opera. I just thought as soon as I started: If nothing else, I wanted this to go well enough so I could write another opera.”

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AP Drama Writer Mark Kennedy and AP Entertainment Writer Jake Coyle contributed to this report.