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Colson Whitehead

Colson Whitehead: Black author makes Pulitzer Prize history – BBC News

Colson Whitehead

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Author Colson Whitehead has won his second Pulitzer Prize for fiction

US author Colson Whitehead has become only the fourth writer ever to win the Pulitzer Prize for fiction twice.

The African-American author was honoured for The Nickel Boys, which chronicles the abuse of black boys at a juvenile reform school in Florida.

Whitehead, a 50-year-old New Yorker, won the 2017 prize in the same category for his book The Underground Railroad.

Before him, only Booth Tarkington, William Faulkner and John Updike had won the Pulitzer for fiction twice.

The 2020 awards, postponed for several weeks due to the coronavirus, were announced remotely this year in the living room of Pulitzer administrator Dana Canedy.

She noted that the first Pulitzers were awarded in 1917, less than a year before the outbreak of the Spanish Flu.

They are among the highest honours for US-based journalists and authors.

Whitehead has previously said he grew up wanting to be the black version of horror writer Stephen King.

His Nickel Boys was inspired by the real-life horror story of the Dozier School for Boys in the Florida panhandle, where children convicted of minor offences were subjected to violent abuse.

The Harvard graduate’s novel was praised by the Pulitzer committee for its “spare and devastating exploration of abuse at a reform school in Jim Crow-era Florida that is ultimately a powerful tale of human perseverance, dignity and redemption”.

The New York Times newspaper topped the list of publications for journalism honours with three awards, including the prestigious investigative reporting prize for Brian Rosenthal’s expose of New York City’s taxi industry, showing how predatory lenders exploited vulnerable drivers.

In collaboration with ProPublica, the Anchorage Daily News won what is widely regarded as the most coveted Pulitzer, for public service journalism, in recognition of its work on the lack of police coverage in many small towns in Alaska.

The honour for breaking news photography went to staff at Reuters news agency for their images of last year’s Hong Kong protests.

And, for the first time in its history, the Pulitzer committee bestowed a prize in audio reporting, which was awarded to This American Life for its episode The Out Crowd, which examined US President Donald Trump’s policy requiring thousands of asylum seekers to wait in Mexico while their claims are adjudicated.

The episode was a collaboration with Molly O’Toole of the Los Angeles Times and Emily Green of Vice News, who will also share the prize.

A posthumous special citation was awarded to African-American civil rights activist and early champion of investigative journalism Ida B Wells, who died in 1931, for her “outstanding and courageous reporting” on lynching. The citation comes with a donation of at least $50,000 (£40,100) in support of Ms Wells’ mission, with recipients to be announced.

“It goes without saying that today we announce the Pulitzer winners in deeply challenging times,” Ms Canedy said on Monday. She added that journalism was as valuable as ever, with the arts continuing to “sustain, unite and inspire”.


Pulitzer Prize winners 2020 in full

Journalism:

  • Breaking news reporting – Courier-Journal, Kentucky
  • Investigative reporting – Brian Rosenthal, New York Times
  • Breaking news photography – Reuters for coverage of the Hong Kong protests
  • Public service journalism – Anchorage Daily News in collaboration with Propublica
  • Explanatory reporting – Staff of The Washington Post
  • Local reporting – Staff of The Baltimore Sun
  • National reporting – T Christian Miller, Megan Rose and Robert Faturechi of ProPublica, Dominic Gates, Steve Miletich, Mike Baker and Lewis Kamb of The Seattle Times
  • International reporting – Staff of The New York Times
  • Feature writing – Ben Taub, The New Yorker
  • Audio reporting – Staff of This American Life’s episode The Out Crowd
  • Commentary – Nikole Hannah-Jones, The New York Times
  • Criticism – Christopher Knight, Los Angeles Times
  • Editorial writing – Jeffery Gerrit, the Palestine (Tx) Herald Press
  • Editorial cartooning – Barry Blitt, contributor, The New Yorker
  • Feature photography – Channi Anand, Mukhtar Khan and Dar Yasin, Associated Press
  • Posthumous special citation – Ida B Wells, African-American civil rights activist

Books, drama and music:

  • Drama –A Strange Loop by Michael R Jackson
  • FictionThe Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead
  • HistorySweet Taste of Liberty: A True Story of Slavery and Restitution in America by W Caleb McDaniel
  • Biography –Sontag: Her Life and Work by Benjamin Moser
  • General non-fiction – The End of the Myth: From the Frontier to the Border Wall in the Mind of America by Greg Grandin; and The Undying: Pain, Vulnerability, Mortality, Medicine, Art, Time, Dreams, Data, Exhaustion, Cancer, and Care by Anne Boyer
  • Poetry – The Tradition by Jericho Brown
  • Music – The Central Park Five by Anthony Davis

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