Colson Whitehead and Hisham Matar win Pulitzer Prizes

Colson Whitehead and Hisham Matar win Pulitzer Prizes

There were Pulitzer wins for novelist Colson Whitehead and memoirist Hisham Matar as the prestigious US awards, worth $15,000 apiece, were announced last night (10th April).

Whitehead's The Underground Railroad, published in the UK by Ursula Doyle's Little, Brown imprint Fleet, and by Doubleday in the US, won the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for fiction. The novel, about a runaway slave's journey using a literal underground railroad, incorporating elements of magical realism, was commended by the Pulitzer Prize "for a smart melding of realism and allegory that combines the violence of slavery and the drama of escape in a myth that speaks to contemporary America.”

The book, which is already the recipient of the 2016 National Book Award, is a favourite of former US president Barack Obama, for whom it was the last novel he read while in office. It was also an Oprah book club pick.

Doyle, who launched Fleet with Whitehead's book last year, told The Bookseller: "Everyone at Fleet is overjoyed that Colson Whitehead's unforgettable novel has been recognised by the Pulitzer Board. It is an honour to publish this remarkable work, which will surely be read for decades to come."

Best First Biography prize-winner The Return: Fathers, Sons and the Land in Between by Hisham Matar, published by Viking in the UK, and by Random House US, took the Pulitzer Prize for biography. The Prize said: “For a first-person elegy for home and father that examines with controlled emotion the past and present of an embattled region.” It wins after last week being shortlisted for the £20,000 Rathbones Folio Prize in the UK. The book chronicles the author's journey journey home two decades after his father's imprisonment in Gaddafi's Libya. 

In two further wins for PRH US, the general non-fiction prize went to Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond, an exposé showing how mass evictions after the 2008 economic crash were less a consequence than a cause of poverty (Crown), published in the UK by Allen Lane, and the Pulitzer Prize for history was awarded to a narrative history about the 1971 Attica prison riots, Blood in the Water: The Attica Prison Uprising of 1971 and Its Legacy by Heather Ann Thompson, published by Pantheon.

The only book category award not scooped by PRH US was the Pulitzer Prize for poetry. It was won by Olio by Tyehimba Jess (Wave Books), a "distinctive" collection the Prize said "melds performance art with the deeper art of poetry to explore collective memory and challenge contemporary notions of race and identity". The book was named a finalist for the 2016 National Book Critics Circle Award for poetry, for the 2017 PEN/Jean Stein Book Award and for the 2017 Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award.

Outside of the books category, almost exactly a year on from the leaks, Panama Papers journalists Bastian Obermayer and Frederik Obermaier received a Pulitzer Prize for explanatory reporting for their work. Oneworld has published their book, The Panama Papers, an account of their role in the investigation.