While industry stalwarts The Washington Post and The New York Times predictably raised a glass for their multiple Pulitzer Prize wins for journalism (and the National Enquirer, as expected, was shut out), the books that won the coveted prize this afternoon included an eclectic mix of expected winners -- and one surprising newcomer.
First-time novelist, Paul Harding (pictured), took the prize in the fiction category for Tinkers, which was published by Bellevue Literary Press, a small press primarily devoted to books that straddle the line between arts and science (especially psychology and medicine). The judges commended the book as "a powerful celebration of life in which a New England father and son, through suffering and joy, transcend their imprisoning lives and offer new ways of perceiving the world and mortality." The finalists, Lydia Millet (Love in Infant Monkeys) and Daniyal Mueenuddin (In Other Rooms, Other Wonders) also confirmed that short stories had their day in the sun last year.
A Pulitzer Prize win for fiction, more than any other American literary award, typically spurs explosive sales. By the end of 2009, last year's fiction winner, the linked story collection Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout, had sold more than 472,000 copies according to Nielsen Bookscan, which tracks approximately 75% of total book sales. Both Junot Diaz (The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao) and Cormac McCarthy (The Road) reaped tremendous benefits from their respective wins in 2008 and 2007, and going down the past decade's list is a veritable who's who of bestselling literature, including Jhumpa Lahiri, Michael Chabon, Jeffrey Eugenides, Marilynne Robinson and Edward Jones.
In other categories, previous prizewinners and nominees ruled the day. Lords of Finance: The Bankers Who Broke the World by Liaquat Ahamed (The Penguin Press) won in History, while T.J. Stiles took home the Biography prize for The First Tycoon: The Epic Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt (Knopf), which also won the National Book Award last year. Versed by Rae Armantrout (Wesleyan University Press), a National Book Award finalist and winner of the National Book Critics Circle Prize, won for Poetry and The Dead Hand: The Untold Story of the Cold War Arms Race and Its Dangerous Legacy by David E. Hoffman (Doubleday) won for General Non-Fiction.
Surprise Pulitzer Prize Win for First-Time Novelist Paul Harding