Stories of oppression both home and abroad were rewarded with Pulitzer Prizes on Monday as Edward P. Jones won the fiction prize for a novel about a black slave owner and Anne Applebaum won the general nonfiction prize for her history of the brutal Soviet labor camps.
The drama award was given for the tale of a transvestite who survived both the Nazis and Communists. In history, the winner was Steven Hahn for “A Nation Under Our Feet: Black Political Struggles in the Rural South From Slavery to the Great Migration.”
Another book about the Soviet Union, William Taubman’s “Khrushchev,” was cited for biography.
“There is still so much to tell about the Soviet Union,” said Applebaum, a columnist and member of the editorial board at The Washington Post, who won for her book, “Gulag.”
“There are thousands of pages of archives that haven’t been read. This is something that only opened up a decade ago.”
The Pulitzer for drama went to Doug Wright for “I Am My Own Wife,” the tale of a real-life German transvestite.
“I am in a state of disbelief,” said Wright, who was directing a play in the East Village when he heard the news Monday.
“I was told by employees of the theater that I needed to talk to the press. My heart went cold and I was yanked out of the room.”
Music and poetryThe award for music went to “Tempest Fantasy” by Paul Moravec, who has created more than 80 other compositions. He currently heads the music department at Adelphi University on Long Island.
Moravec, on vacation in Taormina, Sicily, told The Associated Press in a telephone interview that he got word of his win from a neighbor who had called him about his leaky apartment back in New York. He said he had always dreamed of winning a Pulitzer.
“In music composition, there’s nothing like the Pulitzer Prize. ... It’s very important,” he said. “I think that many composers aspire to win the Pulitzer Prize, because for one thing it makes their careers easier. It opens doors.”
The poetry winner was Franz Wright for “Walking to Martha’s Vineyard.” Wright, of Waltham, Mass., was a Pulitzer finalist in 2002 for his collection, “The Before Life.” He has captured a host of awards for earlier works, including the PEN/Voelcker Award for Poetry.
“I wish my father could share this moment with me,” said Wright, whose father, the late James Wright, won a Pulitzer in 1972 for “Collected Poems.” The Wrights are not related to the drama winner, Doug Wright.
Long struggles for both writersBoth Jones and Taubman were winners last month of the National Book Critics Circle prize and both took far longer to complete their books than originally imagined.
Jones’ reasons were personal — a slow writing style, the occasional day when he didn’t feel like writing. Taubman blamed history: The Soviet Union dissolved in 1991, several years after he began the “Khrushchev” book.
“Suddenly, I had sources, I had archives,” said Taubman, who added that he could also meet family members and interview once untouchable sources, such as the head of the KGB.
“All of that was impossible until Glasnost and then the collapse of the Soviet Union,” Taubman said. “So suddenly from having too little material I had too much, and that’s why it took another 10 years.”
Jones’ “The Known World” took a decade to write. In the meantime, he lost his job, as a proofreader for the trade publication Tax Notes, and lost touch with much of the publishing world. When he finished, he felt so embarrassed by the delay that he notified his agent by letter, instead of telephoning him.
The Pulitzer was a shot of energy on an otherwise down day for Jones, author of a previous book, the acclaimed story collection “Lost in the City.” He was feeling so ill Monday he didn’t bother at first to answer his phone. He also was in the middle of moving from his longtime home in Arlington, Va., because of noisy upstairs neighbors.
“This (award) should give me strength to finish up tomorrow,” said Jones, who next week expects to move into Washington, D.C.
Hahn, the history winner, said he first started work on the book 15 years ago but began formulating the idea years earlier as a graduate student. He is a specialist in Southern history who teaches at the University of Pennsylvania. But he is not, apparently, a specialist in winning Pulitzer Prizes.
“Are you kidding?” he said when called by The Associated Press.
Asked what he was going to do to celebrate, he said: “I’m trying to figure out if this is a real phone call.”