Since Joseph Pulitzer established the Pulitzer Prize in 1917, only 85 books have received the award in the novel/fiction category. The following list contains ten of the best and most influential Pulitzer Fiction awards of all time.
1. To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee (1961)
The main character in Harper Lee’s controversial novel To Kill A Mockingbird is a six year old tomboy called Scout. Throughout the story, locals bully Scout and her family because her father, a lawyer, defends a black man who is accused of raping a young white woman. In 2007, President George W. Bush awarded Lee the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
2. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck (1940)
This staple of high school English classes follows a family of sharecroppers during the Great Depression. Poverty and the Dust Bowl force the Joad family to leave Oklahoma, but they discover that jobs are just as rare in California. Steinbeck, who received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1962, worked with migrant workers on a California ranch as a young man.
3. The Color Purple by Alice Walker (1983)
Probably the most controversial book on this list, The Color Purple consists of letters written by Celie and her sister Nettie. In her letters, Celie matures in a climate of violence and abuse, where black women are largely powerless against the whites and men in their lives. A prolific writer, Walker is best known for her political activism.
4. The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway (1953)
To some, this is the story of an old man named Santiago who spent four days struggling with an eighteen foot marlin, but, to others, this novella is much more. The Old Man and the Sea explores the honor inherent in struggle and even in defeat. Hemingway was a journalist and prolific author of both fiction and nonfiction, best known for his understated writing style.
5. Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell (1937)
Set in Georgia during the Civil War, Gone with the Wind centers around Scarlett O’Hara. Scarlett’s story is partly a story of survival in wartime and partly a story of tradition, love, and passion, especially where scalawag Rhett Butler is concerned. Gone with the Wind was an immediate best seller, yet it was the only book Margaret Mitchell ever published.
6. The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck (1932)
By telling the story of a poor farming family in China, Buck may have paved the way for the U.S. and China to act as allies during World War II. The central character, Wang Lung, endures great poverty and famine as a young man. Eventually he becomes rich, but finds he still must struggle because of his quarrelsome family and foolish sons.
7. The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton (1921)
Edith Wharton used The Age of Innocence to critique the culture she grew up in, New York’s upper class society in the 1870s, a culture which appeared proper and innocent, but wasn’t. The story revolves around Newland Archer, a lawyer, his wife May Welland, and the woman he wishes was his wife, Countess Ellen Olenska.
8. The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara (1975)
The emotions and motivations behind the battle of Gettysburg takes center stage in this historical fiction novel, told from many perspectives. Killer Angels is recognized for creating strong, realistic characters and settings without sacrificing historical accuracy.
9. All The King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren (1947)
In Robert Penn Warren’s political fiction All The King’s Men, Jack Burden discusses his thoughts, his life and his boss, Willie Stark. Over the course of the story, Stark becomes charismatic and corrupt governor and Jack decides that people are not responsible for their actions because they are simply reflexes or “twitches.”
10. The Road by Cormac McCarthy (2007)
This post-apocalyptic author follows a father and son as they try to survive after much of the world has been destroyed and many of the remaining people have become cannibals to survive. Although the story is extremely dark, the father reassures the boy that there are good men left, “carrying the fire.”