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Donna Tartt’s “The Goldfinch,” already among the most popular and celebrated novels of the past year, has won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. One of the country’s top colonial historians, Alan Taylor, has won his second Pulitzer, for “The Internal Enemy: Slavery and War In Virginia.”
Annie Baker’s “The Flick” won the Pulitzer for drama, a play set in a movie theater that was called a “thoughtful drama with well-crafted characters” which created “lives rarely seen on the stage.”
The award Monday for general nonfiction went to Dan Fagin’s “Toms River: A Story of Science and Salvation,” a chronicle of industrial destruction in a small New Jersey community that was praised by The New York Times as a “classic of science reporting.” Megan Marshall’s “Margaret Fuller: A New American Life,” about the 19th century intellectual and transcendentalist, won for biography; and Vijay Seshadri’s witty and philosophical “3 Sections” received the poetry prize.
The Pulitzer for music was given to John Luther Adams’ “Become Ocean,” which judges cited as “a haunting orchestral work that suggests a relentless tidal surge, evoking thoughts of melting polar ice and rising sea levels.”
Tartt’s novel, a sweeping, Dickensian tale about a young orphan set in modern Manhattan, was published last fall to high praise and quick commercial success that has not relented. “The Goldfinch” has been nominated for a National Book Critics Circle prize and an Andrew Carnegie Medal and on Monday was in the top 40 on Amazon.com’s best seller list even before the Pulitzer was announced.
Fans of the 50-year-old Mississippi native, many of whom still had strong memories of her 1992 debut, “The Secret History,” had waited a decade for her to complete her third novel. “The Goldfinch” was published after the disappointing “The Little Friend.” The Pulitzer will likely ensure her place among the elite of contemporary fiction writers and make “The Goldfinch” a million seller.
“I am incredibly happy and incredibly honored and the only thing I am sorry about is that Willie Morris and Barry Hannah aren’t here. They would have loved this,” said Tartt, referring to two authors who had been early mentors.
Meanwhile, the 59-year-old Taylor has reaffirmed his stature as a premier scholar of early American history. His “William Cooper’s Town: Power and Persuasion on the Frontier of the Early American Republic,” winner of the Pulitzer and Bancroft prizes, was published in 1996 and praised as an enlightening and rigorous study of the founding of Cooperstown, N.Y.
“The Internal Enemy” has been cited as a worthy follow-up to Edmund Morgan’s landmark “American Slavery, American Freedom,” a story of the conflicting passions among white Virginians who both eloquently defended their own freedoms and suspiciously presided over the slaves who made their livelihoods possible.
Taylor said Monday that the book had been an education for him recalling how he came upon documents that showed how escaped slaves had assisted the British during the War of 1812 and were an important factor in the British capture of Washington, D.C.
“This is a story I had known nothing about and I was supposed to be a specialist,” he said.
The Columbia University’s prize board honored Baker, who is in her early 30s, for her play about friendship, morality and loyalty. “The Flick” played off-Broadway at Playwrights Horizons last year becoming divisive among critics. Many admired its attempt to capture real life but others found it tediously long.
In “The Flick,” three relatively youthful, low-paid employees work together in a rundown movie theater in Massachusetts that still shows 35-millimeter movies on film. Everyday jealousies, disappointments and anger share the stage with jokes, chit-chat, occasional poignant revelations and a lot of workplace tedium.