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The reading list: It’s Pulitzer season


Starting in 2025, winners of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction will no longer be required to be U.S. citizensEmily Lawson-Todd for Varsity

On May 6, another deserving individual will be inducted into a club I would commit crimes to gain entry to: the Pulitzer Prize winners. An entire tea set will be given away that day: prizes for poetry, memoirs, photography, journalism, music and more. Part of the prize’s appeal is undoubtedly the mystery of it all. Yes, we know the date the decision will be announced, but until then we have no idea which novels made the longlist or the shortlist, or even the members of the deciding jury. Any ‘serious’ writer who has published a book in the past year will secretly think: maybe, just maybe.

And they are right to be hopeful: anything can happen. In 2020, Colson Whitehead won for The Nickel Boys just three years after winning in 2017 for The underground railway. In 2010, by Paul Harding Tinkers shocked everyone by taking home the top prize – The New York Times hadn’t even reviewed the book before it won the country’s most prestigious literary prize.

“Old or young, black or white, man or woman, the winner can be any of us – and in time it can be all of us.”

The award is truly a reflection of the American Dream. Old or young, black or white, man or woman, the winner can be any of us – in the long run it can be all of us. We all have a chance to secure our place among Roth, Hemingway, and Faulkner, as the chief interpreters of that ephemeral and unknowable thing called the human condition.

Only this is not entirely true. The only thing we know for sure about this year’s lucky winner is that he or she will be a US citizen. When I learned of this caveat a few years ago, I fell to my knees, struck by my own poor, stupid luck that I wasn’t American (that’s not a phrase you hear every day). But before I had fully internalized this cringing self-defeat, there was news in the Pulitzer world. Starting in 2025, winners of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction will no longer be required to be U.S. citizens. This decision was made by the board in response to an open letter calling on them to be more flexible in their approach to what it means to be American. The new rule could now include undocumented writers and immigrants, such as poet Javier Zamora, whose undocumented status made him ineligible for his 2022 memoir. Solitodespite the fact that he had lived in the US for 19 years.

“Works that made me realize that there is often something in writing that cannot be learned”

So to say goodbye to this passing era of the Pulitzer Prize, I thought I’d offer my two cents on the best Pulitzer winners I’ve read. I also consider all of these books to be some of the best novels I have read—works that made me realize that there is often something in writing that cannot be taught. Toni Morrison had that something. Lover (published in 1987, awarded in 1988) is categorically one of the greatest novels ever written. Morrison builds a family of formerly enslaved people who move to Cincinnati after the Civil War. The supernatural element involved makes it – dare I say – an underrated contribution to the horror genre. It’s chilling, it’s warming, and it carries such a noxious and destabilizing energy that I remember sitting in Elvis’ Graceland and feeling a dizzying fever come over me from the sheer power of the novel . Don’t walk – run.

“It’s the book I buy extra copies of when I see it in thrift stores so I can donate it to others”

Jumping to the 2011 cycle, I commend the work of a Cambridge alumna with that of Jennifer Egan A visit from the Goon crew. Highly entertaining and accessible, yet deep and perceptive, this book does pretty much exactly what any novel should do. Although it consists of thirteen stories that follow a series of complex characters, are set over decades and span continents, Egan never shies away from the challenge. She depicts each tiny life with such attention and care, encouraging the reader’s empathy for each flawed, fragmented figure. Read it, if only to find out who the titular Goon Squad is.

Finally, I’m going back to 1981 to promote my darling. It is the book I recommend to everyone. It’s the book I buy extra copies of when I see it at thrift stores so I can donate it to others. It’s by John Kennedy Toole A confederation of idiots. One of my favorite things in media is when the setting is so important that it almost becomes another character, like New York Sex and the cityor Leith-in Train spotting. In Dunk, it’s that great American city: New Orleans. Tennessee Williams apparently once said that there are only three cities in America: New Orleans, New York and San Francisco – everywhere else is Cleveland. Choose Dunk ready for NOLA; stay for the picaresque madness of the plot and the iconic, sleazy saint of a main character, Ignatius J Reilly, as he rides Fortuna’s spinning wheel.

I’ll keep my ear to the ground to see which deserving writer may join the legions of heavyweight publications like this. As for the next book on my to-read list, I’ll know by May 6.