Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Prize Watch: What the Yanks have been writing

The American Pulitzer Prizes in a whole lot of categories were given out the other day. In History the winner was Manning Marable, for his enormous biography Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention. Sadly, Marable died just after his book was published.

Other History noms were  Anne F. Hyde for Empires, Nations & Families: A History of the North American West, 1800-60, Anthony Summers and Robbyn Swan, The Eleventh Day: The Full Story of 9/11 and Osama Bin Laden, and Richard White, Railroaded: The Transcontinentals and the Making of Modern America.

In Biography, the distinguished and prolific international-politics historian John Lewis Gaddis won for George F. Kennan: An American Life.  

Nominees in Biography were Mary Gabriel, Love and Capital: Karl and Jenny Marx and the Birth of a Revolution and (this gets complicated!) Manning Marable for Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention, which was shifted from Biography to History by the juries.

Then there is General Non-Fiction, where the winner is literary historian Stephen Greenblatt for The Swerve: How the World Became Modern.  

Nominees were Diane Ackerman for One Hundred Names For Love: A Stroke, a Marriage, and the Language of Healing, and Mara Hvistendahl for Unnatural Selection: Choosing Boys over Girls, and the Consequences of a World Full of Men
Okay, some of their categorization is puzzling, but give 'em credit for principles. They believe in short short lists. They have quite a few women among the nominees (though not among the winners).  And the fiction jury decided not to give an award this year.  

High on the shortlists for 2012 in all these categories must be the new volume in Robert Caro's immense-ain't-big-enough biography of President Lyndon Johnson, Passage to Power, due out any day.  From the subject alone, I'd say, who cares?, but one of his previous volumes, Master of the Senate, is about the best political history/biography I know., and endlessly fascinating.   There's a pretty good essay on Caro, his projects and his methods (he's been at work since 1974) in the current Esquire.
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