Stories of race, racism and colonialism in the U.S. swept the Pulitzer Prizes for its arts, from Louise Erdrich’s book”The Night Watchman” to some Malcolm X biography co-written from the late Les Payne to Katori Hall’s drama”The Hot Wing King.”
The awards had been announced Friday through a remote ceremony that honored the very best work in mathematics and the arts in 2020, a year defined in part from the police killing of George Floyd along with the protests and reckoning that followed. The information also comes with the intensifying debate over race and schooling, with legislators in Texas and everywhere trying to restrict the teaching of racial injustice.
“Exactly what the Pulitzers are awarding this season seems so timely,” Tamara Payne, Les Payne’s daughter along with the primary researcher for his publication, told The Associated Press. “All of these voices are so significant and always have been significant.”
Marcia Chatelain, whose”Franchise: The Golden Arches in Black America” acquired for history, said that she felt honored to be among a group of writers who’ve”attempted to find a means to make apparent that writing about race is fundamental to knowing what we need as a society.”
Erdrich, a part of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians, has drawn upon her background and blended the traditions of written and oral storytelling for such acclaimed novels as”The Round House” and”The Plague of Doves.” She based”The Night Watchman” to the life of her grandfather, a night watchman whose reservation in rural North Dakota was threatened from the 1950s by congressional laws.
“This narrative belongs to him as well as the Turtle Mountain folks. It’s very moving, this can be very moving recognition,” explained Erdrich, who conducts an independent bookstore in Minneapolis, where Floyd was murdered in May 2020. She called the Pulitzer a welcome contrast to the information of the year.
“I love this city and it hurts to know how deep the racism goes. It’s something indigenous individuals also know about well. It has been a painful moment.”
Pulitzer judges predicted Erdrich’s book”a royal, polyphonic book about a community’s attempts to halt the proposed displacement and elimination of several Native American tribes from the 1950s, left with dexterity and creativity.”
It was the first Pulitzer for Erdrich, who turned 67 this week and was a published writer for over 40 years.
The Pulitzer for”The Dead Are Arising” proceeds the posthumous acclaim for Les Payne, an award-winning Newsday journalist who died in 2018. He began working on the Malcolm X book in 1990 and compiled over 100 hours of interviews, for example with family members of the late Dark activist, until he died. Tamara Payne helped finish”The Dead Are Arising,” that has been praised highly by critics and last fall won a National Book Award.
“I really do wish he were here, to obtain the accolades,” Tamara Payne said of her father.
The Paynes’ cooperation is also the second Malcolm X biography to win a Pulitzer for an author who didn’t live to see his publication released. Manning Marable, whose”Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention” acquired for background in 2012, expired shortly before publication.
Natalie Diaz’s”Postcolonial Love Poem,” a work of pain and of bliss her publisher describes as”a telephone goodness, even as it recognizes the violence of our period,” was the poetry winner and David Zucchino’s”Wilmington’s Lie: The Murderous Coup of 1898 and the growth of White Supremacy” was cited for general nonfiction.
Tania León’s composition”Stride” won for songs. The judges commended it to be”a musical journey full of surprise, with powerful brass and sociological themes that incorporate Black music traditions from the U.S. and the Caribbean to a Western orchestral fabric.”
“The Hot Wing King” by Katori Hall, a play set around a hot wing cooking competition, won the prize for play in a theater period that saw most places largely shuttered.
The play award, which includes a $15,000 prize, is”for a distinguished play by an American author, preferably original in its source and dealing with American life.”
The Pulitzer board hailed”The Hot Wing King” as a”funny, deeply felt consideration of Black masculinity and how it’s perceived, filtered through the experiences of a loving gay couple and their family as they prepare to get a culinary contest.”
Finalists included “Circle Jerk” by Michael Breslin and Patrick Foley,” and “Stew” by Zora Howard.
With the majority of theaters closed during the pandemic, the Pulitzer Prize Board shifted the prerequisites for this season’s drama award, permitting cancelled or postponed works, as well as plays created and performed in places aside from theaters, such as online, outside or at site-specific places during calendar 2020. “The Hot Wing King” opened off-Broadway just days ahead of the city’s theaters were closed.