White­head’s ‘Un­der­ground Rail­road’ wins Pulitzer Prize for fic­tion

The Washington Times Daily - - NATION - BY HIL­LEL ITALIE

NEW YORK | Col­son White­head’s “The Un­der­ground Rail­road,” his cel­e­brated novel about an es­caped slave that com­bined lib­er­at­ing imag­i­na­tion and bru­tal re­al­ity, has won the Pulitzer Prize for fic­tion.

Mon­day’s an­nounce­ment con­firmed the book as the lit­er­ary event of 2016, an Oprah Winfrey book club pick and crit­i­cal fa­vorite which last fall re­ceived the Na­tional Book Award, the first time in more than 20 years that the same work won the Pulitzer and Na­tional Book Award for fic­tion. White­head, known for such ex­plo­rations of Amer­i­can myth and his­tory as “John Henry Days,” con­ceived his novel with what he calls a “goofy idea:” Take the so-called Un­der­ground Rail­road of his­tory, the net­work of es­cape routes to free­dom, and make it an ac­tual train. He wove his fan­tasy to­gether with a too-be­liev­able story of a young girl’s flight from a plan­ta­tion.

Other win­ners an­nounced Mon­day also touched upon race and class, in the present and in the past.

Lynn Not­tage’s “Sweat,” which won for drama, ex­plores how the shut­down of a Penn­syl­va­nia fac­tory leads to the break­down of friend­ship and fam­ily, and a dev­as­tat­ing cy­cle of vi­o­lence, prej­u­dice, poverty and drugs. The play marks Not­tage’s Broad­way de­but and her sec­ond Pulitzer Prize. She is the writer of “In­ti­mate Ap­parel,” “By The Way, Meet Vera Stark” and “Ru­ined,” which also won the Pulitzer.

The his­tory win­ner, Heather Ann Thomp­son’s “Blood in the Water: The At­tica Prison Up­ris­ing of 1971 and Its Legacy,” ex­am­ines the events that un­folded start­ing Sept. 9, 1971, when nearly 1,300 pris­on­ers took over the At­tica Cor­rec­tional Fa­cil­ity in up­state New York to protest years of mis­treat­ment. The work re­veals the crimes com­mit­ted dur­ing the up­ris­ing and its af­ter­math, who com­mit­ted them, and how they were cov­ered up.

The gen­eral non­fic­tion win­ner was Matthew Des­mond’s “Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the Amer­i­can City,” set in Milwaukee and praised by the Pulitzer board as “a deeply re­searched ex­pose that showed how mass evic­tions af­ter the 2008 eco­nomic crash were less a con­se­quence than a cause of poverty.” Mr. Des­mond, who last month won a Na­tional Book Crit­ics Cir­cle Award, said Mon­day that he hoped his book would il­lu­mi­nate both the sever­ity of the cri­sis and the role of gov­ern­ment.

Hisham Matar’s “The Re­turn: Fa­thers, Sons and the Land in Between” won for bi­og­ra­phy/au­to­bi­og­ra­phy; the Pulitzer board said Mon­day that Mr. Matar’s mem­oir about his na­tive Libya “ex­am­ines with con­trolled emotion the past and present of an em­bat­tled re­gion.” Tyehimba Jess’ “Olio” was the po­etry win­ner, cited for meld­ing per­for­mance art with po­etry “to ex­plore col­lec­tive mem­ory and chal­lenge con­tem­po­rary no­tions of race and iden­tity.”

The Pulitzer board gave the mu­sic award to Du Yun’s “An­gel’s Bone” and called it a bold work which “in­te­grates vo­cal and in­stru­men­tal el­e­ments and a wide range of styles into a har­row­ing al­le­gory for hu­man traf­fick­ing in the mod­ern world.”

A small-town Iowa news­pa­per edi­to­rial writer was hon­ored by the Pulitzer com­mit­tee for tak­ing on pow­er­ful agri­cul­tural or­ga­ni­za­tions af­ter a water util­ity sued the pa­per’s home county and two others over farm pol­lu­tion. Art Cullen, who owns the twice-weekly Storm Lake Times with his brother John, ac­knowl­edged it wasn’t easy tak­ing on agri­cul­ture in a state like Iowa

“We’re here to chal­lenge peo­ple’s as­sump­tions and I think that’s what ev­ery good news­pa­per should do,” he said.

Mr. Cullen’s writ­ing was lauded by the Pulitzer com­mit­tee for “ed­i­to­ri­als fu­eled by tena­cious re­port­ing, im­pres­sive ex­per­tise and en­gag­ing writ­ing that suc­cess­fully chal­lenged pow­er­ful corporate agri­cul­tural in­ter­ests in Iowa.”

The East Bay Times in Oak­land, Cal­i­for­nia, won the Pulitzer for break­ing news re­port­ing for cov­er­age of a ware­house fire that killed 36 peo­ple.

The New York Daily News and ProPublica have won for pub­lic ser­vice for a se­ries on how of­fi­cials are us­ing a nui­sance abate­ment law to evict peo­ple from their homes, even if they haven’t com­mit­ted a crime.

David A. Fahren­thold of The Wash­ing­ton Post won the Pulitzer for na­tional re­port­ing for cam­paign re­port­ing that cast doubt on Don­ald Trump’s as­ser­tions of gen­eros­ity to­ward char­i­ties.

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