Yesterday, at the literary office (my graduate assistant job this year), someone mentioned how people call themselves writers, but have no clue about what’s going on in literature and poetry these days. I guess knowing what’s going on means knowing what authors won major awards. Then the guy questioned whether we knew the Pulitzer Prize winners for the last five years.

I grew silent.

Just a few minutes ago, I decided to take a look for myself. Well, it just so happens that I’ve read at least 3.75 of the titles on the list (I know that’s pretty sorry). I’m counting the The Known World .50 and Elbow Room .25 too. Other titles that I’ve read include Middlesex and Color Purple. But what is most interesting is seeing which books you know in general. Have you ever questioned:

What do Pulitzer Prize winners get when they win?
There are 21 Pulitzer categories. In 20 of those categories the winners receive a $10,000 cash award and a certificate. (Source: Pulitzer FAQs)

And most importantly, somewhere on the front of the winning author’s book will appear that gold “Pulitzer Prize Winner” seal. Gotta love that. Getting back to the original question, who were the Pulitzer Prize winners for the last five years? I’ll do the research for you. How does a Pulitzer Prize winner began a novel (what’s the hook read like)? See for yourself, starting with the most recent:

2008 Winner: The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz

[chapter] one
GhettoNerd at the End of the World

the golden age

Our hero was not one of those Dominican cats everybody’s always going on about – he wasn’t no home-run hitter or a fly bachatero, not a playboy with a million hots on his jock.

And except for one period early in his life, dude never had much luck with the females (how very un-Dominican of him).

He was seven then.

In those blessed days of his youth, Oscar was something of a Casanova. One of those preschool loverboys who was always trying to kiss the girls, always coming up behind them during a merengue and giving them the pelvic pump, the first nigger to learn the perrito and the one who danced it any chance he got. Because in those days he was (still) a “normal” Dominican boy raised in a “typical” Dominican family, his nascent pimpliness was encouraged by blood and friends alike. During parties – and there were many many parties in those long-ago seventies days, before Washington Heights was Washington Heights, before the Bergenline became a straight shot of Spanish for almost a hundred blocks – some drunk relative inevitably pushed Oscar onto some little girl and then everyone would howl as boy and girl approximated the hip-motism of the adults. (Read more . . . )


2007 Winner: The Road by Cormac McCarthy

The Road When he woke in the woods in the dark and the cold of the night he’d reach out to touch the child sleeping beside him. Nights dark beyond darkness and the days more gray each one than what had gone before. Like the onset of some cold glaucoma dimming away the world. His hand rose and fell softly with each precious breath. He pushed away the plastic tarpaulin and raised himself in the stinking robes and blankets and looked toward the east for any light but there was none. In the dream from which he’d wakened he had wandered in a cave where the child led him by the hand. Their light playing over the wet flowstone walls. Like pilgrims in a fable swallowed up and lost among the inward parts of some granitic beast. Deep stone flues where the water dripped and sang. Tolling in the silence the minutes of the earth and the hours and the days of it and the years without cease. Until they stood in a great stone room where lay a black and ancient lake. And on the far shore a creature that raised its dripping mouth from the rimstone pool and stared into the light with eyes dead white and sightless as the eggs of spiders. It swung its head low over the water as if to take the scent of what it could not see. Crouching there pale and naked and translucent, its alabaster bones cast up in shadow on the rocks behind it. Its bowels, its beating heart. The brain that pulsed in a dull glass bell. It swung its head from side to side and then gave out a low moan and turned and lurched away and loped soundlessly into the dark. (Read more . . .)


2006 Winner: March by Geraldine Brooks

Chapter One – Virginia Is a Hard Road

October 21, 1861

This is what I write to her: The clouds tonight embossed the sky. A dipping sun gilded and brazed each raveling edge as if the firmament were threaded through with precious filaments. I pause there to mop my aching eye, which will not stop tearing. The line I have set down is, perhaps, on the florid side of fine, but no matter: she is a gentle critic. My hand, which I note is flecked with traces of dried phlegm, has the tremor of exhaustion. Forgive my unlovely script, for an army on the march provides no tranquil place for reflection and correspondence. (I hope my dear young author is finding time amid all her many good works to make some use of my little den, and that her friendly rats will not grudge a short absence from her accustomed aerie.) And yet to sit here under the shelter of a great tree as the men make their cook fires and banter together provides a measure of peace. I write on the lap desk that you and the girls so thoughtfully provided me, and though I spilled my store of ink you need not trouble to send more, as one of the men has shown me an ingenious receipt for a serviceable substitute made from the season’s last blackberries. So am I able to send “sweet words” to you! (Read more . . . )


2005 Winner: Gilead by Marilynne Robison

I told you last night that I might be gone sometime, and you said, Where, and I said, To be with the Good Lord, and you said, Why, and I said, Because I’m old, and you said, I don’t think you’re old. And you put your hand in my hand and you said, You aren’t very old, as if that settled it. I told you you might have a very different life from mine, and from the life you’ve had with me and that would be a wonderful thing, there are many ways to live a good life. And you said, Mama already told me that. And then you said, Don’t laugh! because you thought I was laughing at you. You reached up and put your fingers on my lips and gave me that look I never in my life saw on any other face besides your mother’s. It’s a kind of furious pride, very passionate and stern. I’m always a little surprised to find my eyebrows unsinged after I’ve suffered one of those looks. I will miss them. (Read more . . . )


2005 Winner: The Known World by Edward P. Jones

Chapter One
Liaison. The Warmth of Family.
Stormy Weather.

The evening his master died he worked again well after he ended the day for the other adults, his own wife among them, and sent them back with hunger and tiredness to their cabins. The young ones, his son among them, had been sent out of the fields an hour or so before the adults, to prepare the late supper and, if there was time enough, to play in the few minutes of sun that were left. When he, Moses, finally freed himself of the ancient and brittle harness that connected him to the oldest mule his master owned, all that was left of the sun was a five-inch-long memory of red orange laid out in still waves across the horizon between two mountains on the left and one on the right. He had been in the fields for all of fourteen hours. He paused before leaving the fields as the evening quiet wrapped itself about him. The mule quivered, wanting home and rest. Moses closed his eyes and bent down and took a pinch of the soil and ate it with no more thought than if it were a spot of cornbread. He worked the dirt around in his mouth and swallowed, leaning his head back and opening his eyes in time to see the strip of sun fade to dark blue and then to nothing. He was the only man in the realm, slave or free, who ate dirt, but while the bondage women, particularly the pregnant ones, ate it for some incomprehensible need, for that something that ash cakes and apples and fatback did not give their bodies, he ate it not only to discover the strengths and weaknesses of the field, but because the eating of it tied him to the only thing in his small world that meant almost as much as his own life.(Read more . . . )

When I finished writing this post, I told my mother that I was going to read her the opening paragraphs from the last few Pulitzer Prize winners. She must not have been listening, because after I read the first piece, she said “[Naysue], when did you start writing so high falutin?” I laughed and laughed before giving her Diaz’s name. Then I read McCarthy and she made me stop halfway through the paragraph, asking “what road is he talking about?” I told her maybe we didn’t get to the road yet. Her reply? “And we ain’t gonna get to it tonight.” As we moved on, she made note of Geraldine Brooks not-so-nice photo before I read her story. We laughed at the “phlegm” part and decided we’d read enough. After reading part of Robinson’s piece and bumbling over the writing style, I questioned how people might respond to her opening paragraph at a writing workshop if an unknown/unpublished author presented it. My mother concluded with this sentence, “Is that your blog? Why would you post that stuff? Black people don’t care about those people.” I just laughed. I’m black. I care.

The truth is, my blog is about books and I can talk about anything related to that topic. Most of us bloggers have a focus or theme, right? Every black person might not be interested, but the ones who are are still reading this post right now. Or maybe somebody is saying, those are all good books, she doesn’t know what the hell she’s talking about—as usual. Maybe so.

Anyway, I’m sure you’ll add a new Pulitzer winner to your reading list. Need more titles? The list continues–and the finalists list features a few surprises too. Well, I better end this post here before I start listing out the Nobel Prize winners for literature next.

Happy reading, ya’ll!