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Swamplandia wins the Pulitzer Prize! Oh, no, wait a minute. Nothing did.

April 18, 2012 by Reader's Connection



I mean, nothing won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction this year. You can go to the Pulitzer Prize website to see the other awards that were given.

 But I found out yesterday that (1) Karen Russell’s Swamplandia was one of the finalists, and that (2) the members of the Pulitzer Board were unable to make a choice. Which seems weak. I’m grieving. If I had read either of the other two finalists, David Foster Wallace’s The Pale King or Denis Johnson’s Train Dreams, I would probably be grieving for them as well.

Here are a few of the Pulitzer winners in other categories:


General Nonfiction

 The Swerve: How the World Became Modern by Stephen Greenblatt

The Swerve: How the World Became ModernMore than 2,000 years ago, Roman poet and philosopher Lucretius wrote On the Nature of Things, which spoke of such things as the atomic structure of all that exists, of natural selection, the denial of an afterlife, the inherent sexuality of the universe, the cruelty of religion and the highest goal of human life being the enhancement of pleasure. It was a dangerous book and wildly at odds with the powers that be through many a time period. That Greenblatt came across this book while in graduate school is a wonder, for it had been scourged, scorned or simply fallen from fashion from the start, making fugitive reappearances when the time was ripe, but more likely to fall prey to censorship and the bookworm, literally eaten to dust. In the 15th century, along came Poggio Bracciolini— humanist, lover of antiquity, former papal secretary, roving hunter of books—and the hub of Greenblatt’s tale. He found the book, perhaps the last copy, in a monastery library, liked what he saw (even if he never cottoned to its philosophy) and had the book copied; thankfully, history was preserved. Greenblatt’s brilliantly ushers readers into this world, which is at once recognizable and wholly foreign. He has an evocative hand with description and a liquid way of introducing supporting players who soon become principals: Democritus, Epicurius, scribe monks, Thomas More, Giordano Bruno, Montaigne and Darwin, to name just a few. More wonderfully illuminating Renaissance history from a master scholar and historian. — Kirkus Reviews


Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by Manning Marable

Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention

Columbia University professor Marable died shortly before the publication of his marvelous biography of Malcolm X. Since Malcolm’s assassination in 1965 by followers of Elijah Muhammad’s Nation of Islam, Malcolm has been best known through his autobiography (written with Alex Haley), published shortly after his death. Nearly a half-century later, Marable has written a compelling reinterpretation of Malcolm’s life, answering questions raised by the autobiography. Insisting “Malcolm’s strength was his ability to reinvent himself,” Marable concludes that Malcolm was an eloquent advocate for black self-respect, a representative of the black underclass, and “the most important bridge between the American people and the more than one billion Muslims throughout the world.” The biography exposes inaccuracies in earlier accounts of Malcolm’s life (including the autobiography), details the split between Malcolm and Elijah Muhammad, and scrutinizes the assassination plot, raising questions such as the likelihood of an informer within Malcolm’s inner circle. Malcolm was one of a handful of the most important African Americans in the 20th century, and perhaps the least understood. This book is unrivaled among interpretations of a complicated man and his monumental impact. — Choice



George F. Kennan: An American Life by John Lewis Gaddis

George F. Kennan: An American LifeNo one is better suited than Gaddis to write this authorized biography of George F. Kennan: the noted Yale cold war historian had total access to Kennan’s papers as well as to his family members and associates–Kennan so trusted his biographer that he remarked, “write , if you will, on the confident assumption that no account need be taken of my own reaction… either in this world or the next.” Through his privileged relationship with Kennan, Gaddis reveals the man behind the public persona as an agonized and fragile individual who often felt alienated from the U.S. and his fellow citizens, despite his tireless service to his country. In addition to the intimacies of the work, Gaddis offers critical analyses of Kennan’s key roles as diplomat, policy maker, and scholar of Russian history. Unsurpassed in his strategic vision during the cold war, Kennan is credited with being responsible for much of America’s eventual victory, and therein lies the impetus behind this remarkable biography. Adroitly managed (if occasionally barnacled with extraneous facts), Gaddis’s work is a major contribution to Kennan’s legacy and the history of American foreign policy. — Publishers Weekly



Life on Mars by Tracy K. Smith

Life on MarsHypnotic and brimming with irony, the poems in Smith’s latest volume aren’t so much about outer space as the interior life and the search for the divine. The first poem sets the direction, asking, “Is God being or pure force? The wind/ Or what commands it?” and there are strong religious overtones throughout. Poems bear titles like “The Savior Machine,” “Sacrament,” and “The Soul,” and whether the poet is alluding to Arthur C. Clark’s 2001 or memorializing her father, the whole feels reminiscent of Dante’s The Divine Comedy. Smith, a Cave Canem Poetry Prize winner for The Body’s Question, works mostly in free verse, with a few terza rima and several sonnets mixed in, and her poems are grounded in everyday experiences like eating or walking on a street or in the woods. This soon leads to dreamlike states of consciousness in which the dead communicate with the living. Smith channels the voice of her deceased father, her unborn child, or people in the news who send postcards to those who killed them. VERDICT The spiritual motif running through these poems adds a stunning dimension that will please many readers. — Library Journal



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