The Pulitzer Prize, established in 1917, is a U.S. award administered by Columbia University in New York City. It is named after Joseph Pulitzer who willed his money to launch a journalism school at Columbia. Today, each April, a panel of 102 judges decides the winners for 21 categories. My choices are in the categories of fiction, novel, and drama, as some were assigned readings for various American Literature courses. Here are my favorites:
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
I read this book as a child for a class assignment and spent hours discussing Harper Lee’s writing technique and style. However, what makes this one of my favorites is the issue of racism explored through the eyes of a small child Scout whose father is defending a black man accused of raping a white woman in Maycomb, Alabama. Her point-of-view forces the reader to connect with Scout’s youth and innocence only to realize that racism is the worst form of oppression and not something we are born with.
Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri
This book comprises of short stories about Indian immigrants growing up in America. Jhumpa Lahiri explores cultural tensions, generation gaps, and religious strife by revealing interesting characters. She uses rich, colourful diction, and her stories can be enjoyed by immigrants from all continents.
The Color Purple by Alice Walker
This is another compelling book about racial attitudes in the southern states as well as strife faced by black women in 1930s Georgia . Who can forget the characters of Celie Johnson, Sofia, Squeak, and Miss Millie brought to life by Alice Walker?
The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway
This book is quintessential Hemingway. Though the story centers around an old man named Santiago chasing a giant marlin into the Gulf Stream, it’s Hemingway’s masterful writing that hooks the readers to a surprise ending.
Angels in America: Millennium Approaches by Tony Kushner
I enjoyed Tony Kushner’s Broadway play back in ’93, and I loved HBO’s movie version with Al Pacino, Maryl Streep, and Emma Thompson. This play made a bold statement about AIDS back when the facts were still unknown. It recounts the final hours of Prior Walter who is battling AIDS and having visions of angels in Manhattan. Witty and humorous , Kushner convinces readers that Heaven could look like Antarctica!
A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams
I love the movie version of Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire starring Marlon Brando, and I “Stella!” loved the remake starring Alec Baldwin. The colourful setting of New Orleans ignites the passions between the characters of Blanche DuBois, Stella and Stan Kowalski. Stan’s darker side is revealed at the end when he confines Blanche to a mental institution. Each time I read the book, I am able follow the streetcar named desire to Elysian Fields.
Six Degrees of Separation by John Guare
This is a great drama about race relations in America. Art dealers Ouisa and Flan Kittredge meet the charismatic Paul who claims to be a friend of their kids from Harvard. Though Paul is an African-American, Ousa and Flan are taken by his charm and sophistication at first. By next morning, they realize a disturbing side of Paul that doesn’t fit their social norms. Tensions play out between the three characters as they react differently to the truth.
The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck
This is a great novel depicting three generations of a traditional Chinese family, whose matriarch Olan grew up as a poor farmer’s daughter. The novel progresses through their upward mobility brought about by China’s cultural evolution following each younger generation.
Gone with the Wind by Margaret Meade
The chemistry between Scarlett O’Hara and Rhett Butler is more enriching when I read the novel as opposed to the famous 1939 movie starring Vivien Leigh and Clark Gable. As the novel progresses through the Civil War, Sherman’s march through Atlanta, and carpetbaggers escalating the tensions between the North and the South, the readers get an in-depth understanding behind the characters of Scarlett, Rhett, Ashley and Melanie, making this book a masterpiece.
The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
Set during the Great Depression, this novel traces the plight of one Oklahoma family, the Joads, who lose their farm to Wall Street bankers. Steinbeck follows their journey west to California as they join a mass exodus of migrant workers who become uprooted and homeless.
These are some of my favorite reads that were Pulitzer Prize winners. Whether it was a for class assignment or for personal perusal, these are still my favorite reads, making them, in my opinion, exemplary timeless classics.