The 2020 Pulitzer Prizes for Letters were awarded in the book categories of fiction, history, biography, poetry, and general nonfiction, for books published in 2019, on Monday afternoon. The winners were announced via YouTube by Pulitzer administrator Dana Canedy.
This year's winner in biography is Sontag: Her Life and Work by Benjamin Moser (Ecco), which the judges called "an authoritatively constructed work told with pathos and grace, that captures the writer’s genius and humanity alongside her addictions, sexual ambiguities, and volatile enthusiasms." Finalists in the category were Our Man: Richard Holbrooke and the End of the American Century, by George Packer (Alfred A. Knopf) and Parisian Lives: Samuel Beckett, Simone de Beauvoir, And Me by the late Deirdre Bair (Nan A. Talese/Doubleday).
The fiction prize went to The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead (Doubleday), which the judges called a "spare and devastating exploration of abuse at a reform school in Jim Crow-era Florida that is ultimately a powerful tale of human perseverance, dignity and redemption." Finalists in the category were The Dutch House by Ann Patchett (Harper) and The Topeka School by Ben Lerner (Farrar, Straus and Giroux).
The history winner is Sweet Taste of Liberty: A True Story of Slavery and Restitution in America by W. Caleb McDaniel (Oxford University Press), which the judges called "a masterfully researched meditation on reparations based on the remarkable story of a 19th century woman who survived kidnapping and re-enslavement to sue her captor." Finalists in the category were Race for Profit: How Banks and the Real Estate Industry Undermined Black Homeownership by Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor (University of North Carolina Press) and The End of the Myth: From the Frontier to the Border Wall in the Mind of America by Greg Grandin (Metropolitan Books).
There were two winners in general nonfiction. The End of the Myth: From the Frontier to the Border Wall in the Mind of America by Greg Grandin (Metropolitan Books) took home one of the prizes after being moved from the history category by the Pulitzer board. The judges called Myth "a sweeping and beautifully written book that probes the American myth of boundless expansion and provides a compelling context for thinking about the current political moment." The second book was The Undying: Pain, Vulnerability, Mortality, Medicine, Art, Time, Dreams, Data, Exhaustion, Cancer, and Care by Anne Boyer (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), which the judges called "an elegant and unforgettable narrative about the brutality of illness and the capitalism of cancer care in America." Finalists in the category were Elderhood: Redefining Aging, Transforming Medicine, Reimagining Life by Louise Aronson (Bloomsbury) and Solitary by Albert Woodfox with Leslie George (Grove Atlantic).
In poetry, The Tradition by Jericho Brown (Copper Canyon Press) was named the winner. The judges called the work, "a collection of masterful lyrics that combine delicacy with historical urgency in their loving evocation of bodies vulnerable to hostility and violence." Finalists in the category were Dunce by Mary Ruefle (Wave Books) and Only as the Day Is Long: New and Selected Poems by Dorianne Laux (W.W. Norton).