Three African Americans and one African were recently announced as recipients of this year’s Pulitzer Prize.
According to Journal-isms.com, of the seven arts and letters prizes, three went to African Americans: Colson Whitehead in fiction for The Underground Railroad, Lynn Nottage in drama for Sweat and Tyehimba Jess in poetry for Olio.
Hisham Matar, who is of Libyan descent, won for biography or autobiography for The Return: Fathers, Sons and the Land in Between, about his father’s fate under the regime of Muhammar Gaddafi.
Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad gives a fictional account of the lives of two slaves caught up in a murder mystery as they navigate the ‘underground railroad.’ But in Whitehead’s account, it is actually a train that runs underground (so Porsha from the RHOA is not an idiot after all—oh right. Yes, she is.) Published in August 2016, it was also winner of the 2016 National Book Award.
The New York Daily News describes Sweat as “a timely drama about blue-collar workers devastated by layoffs in a Pennsylvania factory town.” The Pulitzer jury hailed Sweat as “a nuanced yet powerful drama that reminds audiences of the stacked deck still facing workers searching for the American dream.” Nottage won a Pulitzer in the same category in 2009 for Ruined.
Hilton Als, theatre critic of the New Yorker and a staff writer there since 1994, appeared to be the only African American winner who was not part of a team, reports Journal-isms.
Als won the prize for criticism, for “bold and original reviews that strove to put stage dramas within a real-world cultural context, particularly the shifting landscape of gender, sexuality and race.”
Detroit-based Tyehimba Jess won for his collection of poetry, Olio, released in April 2016. According to one review, Olio is “part fact, part fiction, sonnet, song and narrative to examine the lives of mostly unrecorded African American performers” including Paul Laurence Dunbar, Blind Tom Wiggins, the Fisk Jubilee Singers and Edmonia Lewis.
With the inclusion of a Chinese American Du Yun, who won in the music category for opera Angel’s Bone, this year’s Pulitzers are made of one of the most diverse classes yet.