Two masters of the arts world finally won Pulitzers on Monday, with 73-year-old novelist Cormac McCarthy receiving the fiction prize for “The Road” and 77-year-old saxophonist Ornette Coleman honored in music for “Sounder Grammar,” a live recording.
It was the first Pulitzer for McCarthy, widely praised as an heir to William Faulkner for such novels as “All the Pretty Horses” and “Blood Meridian.” Coleman, inventor of free jazz and often compared in importance to Louis Armstrong and Charlie Parker, became only the second jazz artist to win a competitive Pulitzer. Wynton Marsalis won in 1997 for “Blood on the Fields,” a classical piece.
Coleman said his cousin notified him that he had won the honor. “I didn’t believe him,” Coleman told The Associated Press. “I’m grateful to know that America is really a fantastic country.”
Lawrence Wright’s “The Looming Tower,” a best-selling investigation of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, won for general nonfiction. Wright, a staff writer for The New Yorker, is author of “Twins” and “In the New World.” He also co-wrote the political movie thriller “The Siege.”
The history prize went to Gene Roberts’ and Hank Klibanoff’s “The Race Beat: The Press, the Civil Rights Struggle, and the Awakening of a Nation.”
Klibanoff, managing editor for news at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, said that the book written with Roberts, former executive editor at The Philadelphia Inquirer and managing editor at The New York Times and now a journalism professor at the University of Maryland, mixed storytelling and research.
“I grew up in the South, and I grew up in the midst of the news coverage of the civil rights struggle,” Klibanoff said. “But really what got me into it was when my co-author Gene Roberts brought me into it. ... He had worked for about three years or so on it, and ... together we worked another 12 years on it.”
Roberts’ staff at the Inquirer won 17 Pulitzer Prizes while he was executive editor.
The poetry award was given to Natasha Trethewey’s “Native Guard,” a collection about black Civil War soldiers who helped protect a fort on the Mississippi coast.
The Pulitzer for biography went to Debby Applegate’s book on 19th-century minister and abolitionist Henry Ward Beecher, “The Most Famous Man in America.” Applegate, 39, said she worked 20 years on the book and had originally planned it as a student paper when she was an undergraduate at Amherst College.
“I had a job in the library and had to do work on an exhibit on notorious alumni,” said Applegate, noting that Beecher’s alleged adultery led to a widely publicized trial. “Henry Ward Beecher, class of 1834, was my assignment.”
Applegate added that she had hoped to publish the book years ago, at the height of a 20th-century sex scandal, President Clinton’s affair with intern Monica Lewinsky.
David Lindsay-Abaire won the drama prize for “Rabbit Hole,” about a wealthy, suburban couple trying to come to terms with the death of their young son, Danny, killed when he runs into the street and is struck by a car. The jury submitted three finalists in the drama category to the Pulitzer board, but none received a majority vote. So another notable drama, “Rabbit Hole,” was chosen.
“It’s a surprise. I had processed months ago that it wasn’t in the cards, so I was just going about my day, trying desperately to write a lyric for ‘Shrek,’ ” Lindsay-Abaire told The Associated Press. He is writing the book and lyrics for a stage version of the hit animated film expected to open on Broadway in fall 2008.
McCarthy, author of nine previous novels, has won the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award. But “The Road” is the author’s greatest and most unlikely success. Not all of his work has caught on with the public, or with critics, but “The Road,” an often horrifying story of a father and son on a post-apocalypse landscape, placed high on numerous critics’ lists for 2006 and last month received publishing’s most lucrative honor: Oprah Winfrey picked it for her book club and even persuaded the media-shy author to agree to a television interview. More than 1 million copies of “The Road” already are in print.
McCarthy’s book was one of four Pulitzer winners — out of five categories for books — released by Random House, Inc., an achievement the publisher is calling unprecedented.
Two honorary prizes were announced Monday, including one for jazz. The late John Coltrane was praised “for his masterful improvisation, supreme musicianship and iconic centrality to the history of jazz.” Science fiction, another art form long ignored by the Pulitzers, was recognized as “Fahrenheit 451” author Ray Bradbury, 87, was cited for “his distinguished, prolific and deeply influential career.”