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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 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 November 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.