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Musical Hamilton wins Pulitzer for drama

Associated Press Associated Press 19/04/2016 MARK KENNEDY

Hamilton, the hip-hop stage biography of Alexander Hamilton, has won the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for drama, honouring creator Lin-Manuel Miranda for a dazzling musical that has captured popular consciousness like few Broadway shows.

The Columbia University's prize board on Monday cited Hamilton as "a landmark American musical about the gifted and self-destructive founding father whose story becomes both contemporary and irresistible."

Other finalists were Gloria, by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins and The Humans, by Stephen Karam.

"I feel really humbled and really overwhelmed," Miranda said.

"Columbia is Hamilton's alma mater so I think that gave me a home-court advantage. But it's extraordinary to be recognised in this way."

Viet Thanh Nguyen's The Sympathizer, a debut novel set in the final days of the Vietnam War and narrated in flashback by a former Communist agent who infiltrated the South Vietnamese Army, won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction.

The 45-year-old author said he wrote The Sympathizer for himself but feels many can relate to it.

"I think most people in their inner selves are conscious of being an impostor, being an observer, not being the person everyone thinks they are," he said.

"For the novel I took that to the extreme in using a spy and adding the dimensions of the thriller and historical fiction."

Black Flags: The Rise of ISIS by Joby Warrick won for general nonfiction.

The history prize was won by Custer's Trials: A Life on the Frontier of a New America, by TJ Stiles.

The book Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life, by William Finnegan won in the biography or autobiography category, cited as a "memoir of a youthful obsession"

But it was the drama award that generated the most buzz. Hamilton, about the first US Treasury Secretary, becomes the ninth musical to win the drama award, joining such shows as South Pacific, Sunday in the Park with George and Rent.

The last musical to nab the award was Next to Normal in 2010.

It tells the story of how an orphan immigrant from the Caribbean rose to the highest ranks of American society, as told by a young African-American and Latino cast. Miranda leaned on Ron Chernow's biography of the Founding Father, but told the tale in common language and verse, transforming Hamilton into "the $10 Founding Father without a father."

Miranda, 36, who wrote the music and story, already has a Tony for creating the Broadway musical In the Heights, a show which was nominated for a Pulitzer in 2009 and this month won three Olivier Awards in London. He also has an Emmy for writing the opening number for the 2013 Tony Awards.

The drama award was widely expected to go to Miranda this year. The album for Hamilton won a Grammy Award and became the highest-debuting cast recording on the Billboard Top 200 in over 50 years. The show is a leading favourite in this year's Tony Awards. The libretto, published last week, immediately became a top seller on Amazon.com

"I'm just trying to stay as present and in the moment as possible because I'm fully aware that this speeds by in the highlight reel. I'm living in the highlight reel section of my life," Miranda said. "I want to slow the montage down."

Hamilton was a sold-out sensation this year when it debuted off-Broadway at New York's Public Theater and amassed a $60 million advance on Broadway. It has been cheered by politicians as diverse as Dick Cheney and President Barack Obama, and celebrities like British actress Helen Mirren, musician Questlove and many others.

Previous playwrights honoured include August Wilson, Edward Albee, Eugene O'Neill, Arthur Miller and Tennessee Williams.

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