Sunday, March 15, 2015

21st Century Pulitzer Prize Winners for Fiction

21st Century Pulitzer Prize Winners for Fiction

Interpeter of Maladies

Collection of short stories about Indians and Indian-Americans sometimes struggling to reconcile their culture with life in the United States.

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay

Novel following the relationship of two Jewish cousins (who become pioneers in the golden age of comic books) before, during, and after World War II.

Empire Falls

Novel that tells the story of Miles Roby, former owner of the Empire Grill, and his relationship to his family and to the rich family that controls the lives of everyone living in Empire Falls, Maine.  This one was made into an HBO series starring Paul Newman.


Novel exploring the history of several generations of a Greek family through most of the twentieth century as it assimilates to life in the United States.  The novel's main character (who gives the book its title) is an intersex man, a person who has a condition known as 5-Alpha-Reductase-Deficiency that gives him key feminine characteristics that make his gender so interchangeable that it is difficult to determine.  

The Known World

Historical novel that examines the issue of slavery from both the white and black points-of-view, including that of black slaveowners.


What turned out to be the first book in Robinson's well-rewarded "Gilead Trilogy," this one is the story of an elderly Congregationalist pastor who, in 1957, is writing the story of his life so that his young son will know who is father was.


My favorite of Geraldine Brooks's novels, this one re-tells the story of Little Women through the eyes of Louisa May Alcott's father (known here simply as March).  Much of the novel takes place during the Civil War when March was away from his family.


A father and his little boy are on the move, searching for food and shelter, after most of civilization has been destroyed.  It is not a pretty world out there.

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

Tells the story of a Dominican family living in New Jersey, in particular, the lives of overweight Oscar Wao and his runaway sister.  Oscar is a reader, and he is obsessed with the science fiction and fantasy genres.

Olive Kitteridge

A collection of related short stories that take place in little Crosby, Maine, this one recently was made into a very good four-part miniseries for HBO.  Olive Kitteridge, the title character, is a retired school teacher with so much attitude that her husband is either the weakest man imaginable or an out-and-out saint.


Yet another winner set in New England (see a trend here?), this one tells the story of a clockmaker who, on his death bed, recalls the life of his own father, a tinker who supported the family by selling goods from a donkey-cart.

A Vist from the Goon Squad

A collection of short stories spanning more than fifty years that largely explores the history of the rock music industry.  The stories have recurring characters, and some readers and critics consider the book to be more a novel than a short story collection.

(No Award Presented)

The Orphan Master's Son

 Uses one man's life history to tell the devastating story of life in modern North Korea.  A very complicated series of events allows one North Korean man a truly extraordinary, but tragic, life.

The Goldfinch

Novel with one of the weakest and most unlikable main characters I have encountered in years, this is my least favorite of the twenty-first century's winners.  Frankly, I found its message to be a worthy one, but one that was so pretentiously delivered (especially the novel's last few pages) that, in the long run, I regretted wasting reading time on it...just saying.

I have already read the winners from 2002 through 2007, plus the 2013 and 2014 winners.  My two favorites are March and The Orphan Master's Son, and I consider both of these to be among my all-time favorite books.  I have officially placed the other six on my TBR list - and I'm still a little ticked at the judges that they pulled a fast one in 2012 by deciding not to choose a winner at all.  Who do they think they're kidding?


  1. I don't follow the Pulitzer award as much as some of the other literary awards but I usually pay attention to the winner. I must say I totally missed what happened in 2012. Was there any explanation as to why they did not make a choice? Is there a long list and short list given out for this award before its announcement? Just want to say once again that I really appreciate that you are blogging again. You have so much bookish news and introduce me to so many books that I would never come across otherwise. I must say I agree with you about The Goldfinch as I was underwhelmed in the face of all the hype.

    1. I got the impression, Elizabeth, that the voting ended up in a relative tie and that the judges could not agree on a clear enough winner to make the prize award. If that is really the case, I think it unfairly taints the best fiction written that year, especially the short list of three finalists: Train Dreams by Denis Johnson, Swamplandia by Karen Russell, and The Pale King by David Foster Wallace. I don't remember seeing a long list, but I'm sure that the judges had plenty to consider.

      But this has happened before with the Pulitzer: 1917, 1920, 1941 (when at the last moment For Whom the Bell Tolls was declared to offensive to deserve its voted prize), 1957 (when the Board overrode the decision of the Jury), 1971 (when novels by Welty, Bellow, and Oates were all rejected as unworthy), 1974 (when Gravity's Rainbow was rejected by the Board), and 1977 (when the Board rejected A River Runs Through It but later came back and gave a "special" prize to Roots). Apparently, the Board does not have to follow the recommendation of the Jury and sometimes decides not to issue a prize for reasons of its own.

  2. Sam! I love it when you talk Pulitzer fiction! My favorites of the 21st century crop so far are Oscar Wao, Interpreter of Maladies and Gilead. I haven't yet read The Goldfinch. Have you got a prediction for April 20th? I'm thinking that Marilynne Robinson might get it again for Lila. Or Lily King for Euphoria.

    1. I'm pulling for Marilynne Robinson's "Lila" and will horribly disappointed if "All the Light We Cannot See" gets it. I really think that that Anthony Doer novel is overrated as much as Goldfinch was overrated in 2014. As a dark horse, I would love to see Phil Klay's collection of short stories, Redeployment, win it, but there's probably not much of a chance of that happening.

  3. You never know what will happen with Pultizer fiction.