The best of the Pulitzer prize: 7 books to read now

This year’s Pulitzer prize winners will be announced on 9 May, adding a new list of recipients to an incredible roll call of literary greats.

If you’re looking for some spring reading inspiration, look no further than this list of seven past winners to add to your to-read pile in the run-up to 2022’s announcements.

1. Maus by Art Spiegelman

The decision of a Tennessee school board to ban Art Spiegelman’s Maus in January 2022 saw demand for the book soar, rocketing it up Amazon’s bestseller lists.

The graphic novel charts the experiences of the author’s parents from the outbreak of war, including their detention in the Auschwitz concentration camp.

Using a present-day frame story, the author explores the relationship between himself and his father, Vladek. Chronicling the horrors of the holocaust through Vladek’s memories, the author represents Jews as mice and Nazis as cats, in a minimalist, black and white style.

The graphic novel won the special citation award in 1992.

2. Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri

Lahiri’s debut short-story collection, Interpreter of Maladies won the Pulitzer prize for fiction in 2000.

The nine-story collection centres around the experiences of Indian immigrants living in America –Lahiri, born in London to Indian immigrant parents, moved to America at the age of three.

Nightly blackouts in a Boston apartment shed light on a couple’s darkest secrets, a mother on a family holiday to the Sun Temple at Konark bears her soul to a tour guide, and an elderly woman religiously sweeps the stairs of her apartment block, all but invisible to the rest of its inhabitants.

3. The Overstory by Richard Powers

A Norwegian farmer in 19th-century Iowa, a Vietnam War loadmaster, and a 1980s student are just some of the characters who become entangled in Richard Powers’ The Overstory.

When one of the chestnut trees on the Hoel family farm survives the blight that kills the rest of their grove, old man Hoel decides to photograph the tree. Having done so once, he continues to do so on the same day in March every year.

It’s a family tradition that results in great-great-grandson Nick Hoel inheriting a pile of more than 100 photographs chronicling the life of the tree, of all of the lives who have come into contact with it, directly and indirectly.

This environmental epic won the prize in 2019.

4. Beloved by Toni Morrison

In a haunting novel of family, community, and folklore, brutality battles against the enduring power of love.

Sethe escapes from Sweet Home, the farm where she has been kept as a slave and flees to the free state of Ohio. Here, she finds that she can’t outrun past traumas, including the ghost of her dead daughter who died before she could be given a name and whose grave is marked simply “Beloved”.

Beloved won the Pulitzer prize in 1998, while Morrison was awarded the Nobel prize for literature in 1993.

5. The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead

Whitehead won his second Pulitzer prize in 2019 for The Nickel Boys, having previously won the 2016 prize for The Underground Railroad.

The Nickel Boys follows young Elwood Curtis as he grows up in 1960s Florida, listening to the recorded speeches of Martin Luther King Junior.

Despite working hard as a hotel dishwasher and at a local convenience store, and being offered a place at college, a single incident will see Elwood enter the hellish reform school, the Nickel Academy.

Based on real-life events, this harrowing story of perseverance and dignity in the face of abuse will stay with you long after you put it down.

6. Armies of the Night by Norman Mailer

Subtitled History As A Novel The Novel As History, Armies of the Night won the Pulitzer prize for non-fiction in 1968.

In October 1967, between 20,000 and 200,000 people (depending on the paper you read) are marching in Washington, D.C., protesting the Vietnam War.

Norman Mailer was there, and his unique viewpoint is the basis of a book that blends fiction with reportage in a way that Time magazine called “artful” and “worthy to be judged as literature”. Intellectuals, hippies, poets, and military police all share the page, documenting a defining moment of American sixties counterculture.

7. Barbarian Days: A Surfing Lifeby William Finnegan

A surfing memoir for people that don’t like surfing, Barbarian Days was awarded the 2016 Pulitzer prize for biography.

Finnegan uses his lifelong passion for surfing as the undercurrent for a story chronicling his life from 1950s Hawaii to apartheid-era South Africa and present-day New York.

Combining sporting memoir, history, and travel, this non-fiction epic is a real-life adventure story spanning the second half of the twentieth century and beyond.

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