You are using an older browser version. Please use a supported version for the best MSN experience.

Whitehead's 'Underground Railroad' wins fiction Pulitzer

Associated Press logoAssociated Press 4/10/2017 By HILLEL ITALIE, AP National Writer
This image released by Doubleday shows "The Underground Railroad," by Colson Whitehead. The book was awarded the Pulitzer Prize on Monday, April 10, 2017 for fiction. (Doubleday via AP) © The Associated Press This image released by Doubleday shows "The Underground Railroad," by Colson Whitehead. The book was awarded the Pulitzer Prize on Monday, April 10, 2017 for fiction. (Doubleday via AP)

NEW YORK (AP) — 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.

This image released by Boneau/Bryan-Brown shows, Michelle Wilson, left, and Johanna Day during a performance of Lynn Nottage's play, "Sweat," at Studio 54 in New York. The play was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for drama on Monday, April 10, 2017. (Joan Marcus/Boneau/Bryan-Brown via AP) © The Associated Press This image released by Boneau/Bryan-Brown shows, Michelle Wilson, left, and Johanna Day during a performance of Lynn Nottage's play, "Sweat," at Studio 54 in New York. The play was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for drama on Monday, April 10, 2017. (Joan Marcus/Boneau/Bryan-Brown via AP)

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.

This image released by Boneau.Bryan-Brown shows, foreground from left, John Earl Jelks, Michelle Wilson, Johanna Day and Alison Wright during a performance of Lynn Nottage's play, "Sweat," at Studio 54 in New York. The play was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for drama on Monday, April 10, 2017. (Joan Marcus/Boneau/Bryan-Brown via AP) © The Associated Press This image released by Boneau.Bryan-Brown shows, foreground from left, John Earl Jelks, Michelle Wilson, Johanna Day and Alison Wright during a performance of Lynn Nottage's play, "Sweat," at Studio 54 in New York. The play was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for drama on Monday, April 10, 2017. (Joan Marcus/Boneau/Bryan-Brown via AP)

Whitehead finished "The Underground Railroad" well before Donald Trump's election but now finds parallels with the present.

FILE - In this April 2, 2009 file photo, playwright Lynn Nottage poses at home in New York. Nottage's play, "Sweat", was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for drama on Monday, April 10, 2017. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews, File) © The Associated Press FILE - In this April 2, 2009 file photo, playwright Lynn Nottage poses at home in New York. Nottage's play, "Sweat", was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for drama on Monday, April 10, 2017. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews, File)

"I think the book deals with white supremacy as a foundational error in the country's history and that foundational error is being played out now in the White House," he told The Associated Press on Monday. "When I was writing the book I wasn't thinking about current events, but I think you have to look at it differently now."

This cover image released by Wave books shows "Olio," by Tyehimba Jess. The book was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for poetry on Monday, April 10, 2017. (Wave Books via AP) © The Associated Press This cover image released by Wave books shows "Olio," by Tyehimba Jess. The book was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for poetry on Monday, April 10, 2017. (Wave Books via AP)

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

This undated image released by Wave Books shows poet Tyehimba Jess. Jess was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for poetry on Monday, April 10, 2017 for his work, "Olio." (Wave Books via AP) © The Associated Press This undated image released by Wave Books shows poet Tyehimba Jess. Jess was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for poetry on Monday, April 10, 2017 for his work, "Olio." (Wave Books via AP)

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.

This cover image released by Random House shows, "The Return: Fathers, Sons and the Land in Between," by Hisham Matar. The book was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for biography or autobiography on Monday, April 10, 2017. (Random House via AP) © The Associated Press This cover image released by Random House shows, "The Return: Fathers, Sons and the Land in Between," by Hisham Matar. The book was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for biography or autobiography on Monday, April 10, 2017. (Random House via AP)

"I was looking at how poverty and economic stagnation was beginning to shift our American narrative and how a culture was crying out," Nottage told the AP after her win Monday. "I'm very honored. I'm in a bit of a daze."

This cover image released by Pantheon shows "Blood in the Water: The Attica Prison Uprising of 1971 and Its Legacy," by Heather Ann Thompson. The book was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for history on Monday, April 10, 2017. (Pantheon via AP) © The Associated Press This cover image released by Pantheon shows "Blood in the Water: The Attica Prison Uprising of 1971 and Its Legacy," by Heather Ann Thompson. The book was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for history on Monday, April 10, 2017. (Pantheon via AP)

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.

This book cover image released by Crown shows, "Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City," by Matthew Desmond. The book was awarded the Pulitzer Prize on Monday, April 10, 2017 for general non-fiction. (Crown via AP) © The Associated Press This book cover image released by Crown shows, "Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City," by Matthew Desmond. The book was awarded the Pulitzer Prize on Monday, April 10, 2017 for general non-fiction. (Crown via AP)

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." 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.

"You look at a public housing tower and a mortgaged suburban home," he told the AP. "Both are government subsidized, but they don't look anything alike. We seem a lot more willing to spend money on tax write-offs than on direct assistance."

Hisham Matar's "The Return: Fathers, Sons and the Land in Between" won for biography/autobiography; the Pulitzer board said Monday that Matar's memoir about his native Libya "examines with controlled emotion the past and present of an embattled region." Tyehimba Jess' "Oilo" 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."

___

Associated Press writers Lynn Elber in Los Angeles and Mark Kennedy and Mesfin Fekadu in New York contributed to this story.

AdChoices
AdChoices
image beaconimage beaconimage beacon