2022 Pulitzer Prize Winners – Read the Books

ZUMA Press Inc / ALAMY

The announcement of the Pulitzer Prizes is a rite of spring, rich with both pageantry and gravitas, as we celebrate the previous year’s outstanding achievements in journalism, music, criticism, cartooning, and books. The five categories of fiction, poetry, history, biography, and general nonfiction shine a beam onto the scholarship and creativity that enrich us and define our humanity. Often decades in the making, these works educate, augment, and entertain, as only the written word can.

This year’s winners offer vital perspectives at a time of grievous transition and potentially serious consequences. One painter’s account of his life from him, conveyed not only in words but also in his canvases, evokes a rural corner of Georgia where the cruelties of Jim Crow were tempered by a vibrant, resilient Black community. Two historians examine the contradictions of American politics through the lenses of Indigenous justice and our fraught relationship with Cuba. An inventive, searing novel traces one family’s shadow across the Jewish experience, while a superb nonfiction narrative captures the hopes and despairs of a neglected Brooklyn girl. And who says a poet can’t teach a strict form like the sonnet fresh tricks?

The United States has struggled through a year like no other, our lives an endless scroll of breaking news and boldface headlines. Not since the 1960s—and possibly the Civil War—has our republic seemed so fragile and ill-equipped to wrangle the challenges ahead, from Covid to climate change to international conflict to human rights at home. But one thing’s for sure: Books—such as those honored by the Pulitzer Prizes—are our best tools to make sense of it all.

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Chasing Me to My Graveby Winfred Rembert, As Told to Erin I. Kelly

Bloomsbury Publishing

BIOGRAPHY

A gorgeously illustrated retrospective of the Black folk artist who died in 2021, plus a wrenching memoir of the Jim Crow South. A peer of the great Mose Tolliver, Rembert grew up in rural Cuthbert, Georgia. His vibrant canvases evoke the honky-tonks of Hamilton Avenue, convicts laboring in sun-scorched fields.

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Invisible Childby Andrea Elliott

GENERAL NONFICTION

Andrea Elliott, a reporter at The New York Times, began chronicling Dasani’s life in 2012, having met the 11-year-old girl in the homeless shelter she’d moved to in Fort Greene, Brooklyn. In her Pulitzer-winning Invisible Child, Elliott writes unsparingly about the realities of life in shelters and the trajectory of children in that setting. Through the history of one family, Elliot examines how racial and economic disparities produce generational poverty. She puts a face to statistics and, in doing so, challenges our assumptions about poverty and resilience.

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Covered with Nightby Nicole Eustace

HISTORY

A historian vividly recreates a fateful crime in 1722, when two white men assaulted an Indigenous hunter in Pennsylvania, just as British colonists and Iroquois leaders were sketching a treaty for an uneasy peace. From the aftermath of this little-known event emerges fixed notions of crime and punishment, the burning question of whose thumb commands the scales of justice. It’s equal parts true-crime page-turner and an essential contribution to the canon of our history.

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Cuba: An American Historyby Ada Ferrer

HISTORY

Ada Ferrer is a historian and a child of Cuban immigrants who fled to Miami in the 1960s. From the first Spanish settlement, the slave trade, and the Bay of Pigs Invasion in 1961 to Cuba’s influence in African countries, she writes a nuanced story of the complex history between Cuba and The United States. Ferrer’s comprehensive exploration of Cuba, the Cuban people, and the shifting relationship with the United States helps us understand both countries’s histories and the ties that continue to bind them together.

5

Frank: Sonnetsby Diane Seuss

POETRY

In her lithe, unsparing fifth collection, poet Diane Seuss reimagines the sonnet as conversational confession, dispensing with strictures of rhyme to probe the burdens of love and selfhood, the compulsion to see art as a whole, with images playfully plucked from everyday life. “Intimacy unhinged,” she writes. “Believe me, I didn’t want it anymore. Who in their/right mind? And then it came like an ice cream truck/with its weird tinkling music, its sweet frost.”

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The Netanyahusby Joshua Cohen

FICTION

The Netanyahus turns the conventions of the campus novel on its head, as the narrator—Ruben Blum, an elderly American historian retired from Corbin University, in the bucolic hinterland of New York—looks back on a pivotal year at the end of the Eisenhower administration, when he played host to an exiled Israeli scholar whose family would transform the fate of the Middle East. There’s a wry Talmudic tone to this playful, ingenious work. As Ruben muses, “Dreams are involuntary. Every tradition believes this, from the neurological to the numinous. Some dreams are held to be prophecy, while others are held to be nonsense, which is prophecy yet unmanifest…those waking dreams indistinguishable from yearning. ”

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