Culture

Jennifer Egan’s ‘Goon Squad’ takes the 2011 Pulitzer Prize

NEW YORK: “A Visit from the Goon Squad,” Jennifer Egan’s inventive novel about the passage of time, won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction Monday, honored for its “big-hearted curiosity about cultural change at warp speed.”Egan, 48, has been highly praised for her searching, unconventional narratives about modern angst and identity.

Critics were especially taken with “A Visit from the Goon Squad,” set in the digital upending of the music industry. Earlier this year, she won the National Book Critics Circle prize for the book, which experiments with form, notably a long section structured like a PowerPoint presentation.

“The book is so much about how change is unexpected and always kind of shocking,” she said. “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.”

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. He said it can be intimidating approaching a book on Lincoln, who has been written about so much before. He said 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 in the past, won the Pulitzer for biography for “Washington: A Life,” about the nation’s first president. It’s his first Pulitzer Prize.

The historian worked for six years on the project, reading some 35,000 to 40,000 pages of material on Washington and 125 books about people and events from Washington’s time.

Kay Ryan’s “The Best of It: New and Selected Poems” won the poetry prize, a book called by the Pulitzer board “a treasure trove of an iconoclastic and joyful mind.” Ryan was U.S. Poet Laureate from 2008-2010.

The general nonfiction prize was given to “The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer” by Siddhartha Mukherjee, an oncologist and assistant professor of medicine at Columbia. It is his first book.

The music prize went to Zhou Long for “Madame White Snake,” which was hailed as “a deeply expressive opera that draws on a Chinese folk tale to blend the musical traditions of the East and the West.” It made its debut in February 2010 in a performance by the Boston Opera. Zhou was chosen to write the music by Cerise Lim Jacobs, who wrote the opera’s libretto.

The Pulitzers in journalism, letters, drama and music are given out annually by Columbia University on the recommendation of a 19-person board and each award carries a $10,000 prize.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on April 20, 2011, on page 16.

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