Pulitzer Prizes: A Guide to the Winning Books

Louise Erdrich won the fiction prize for her novel “The Night Watchman.” Here are the 2021 winners for fiction, nonfiction, poetry, history and biography.


By Joumana Khatib

Fiction

‘The Night Watchman,’ by Louise Erdrich (Harper/HarperCollins Publishers)

This novel follows members of the Chippewa in the 1950s, as Congress weighs a bill to “emancipate” Indigenous people from their lands and their tribal affiliations. The title character was modeled after Erdrich’s grandfather, who sent voluminous letters to Washington in an effort to save his tribe. Our reviewer called the book “a magisterial epic that brings her power of witness to every page.”

HISTORY

‘Franchise: The Golden Arches in Black America,’ by Marcia Chatelain (Liveright)

Chatelain, a history professor at Georgetown, offers a look at the intricate ties between the fast-food behemoth and Black communities — and how their relationships were full of compromises and contradictions. Our critic Jennifer Szalai called the book “impressively judicious,” adding that Chatelain’s “sense of perspective gives this important book an empathetic core as well as analytical breadth, as she draws a crucial distinction between individual actors, who often get subjected to so much scrutiny and second-guessing, and larger systems, which rarely get subjected to enough.”

Biography

‘The Dead Are Arising: The Life of Malcolm X,’ by Les Payne and Tamara Payne (Liveright)

This biography, which also won the National Book Award for nonfiction, was a decades-long project; Les Payne died in 2018, leaving his daughter and principal researcher, Tamara, to finish the manuscript. “Nobody has written a more poetic account” of Malcolm X’s life, our reviewer said, praising the book’s reconstruction of the key events in his life.

poetry

‘Postcolonial Love Poem,’ by Natalie Diaz (Graywolf)

In her second book, Diaz claims a classic form — the love poem — and centers the experiences of queer women of color. Our reviewer praised the “extreme lushness to the language Diaz uses, especially about love, sex and desire.”

General nonfiction

‘Wilmington’s Lie: The Murderous Coup of 1898 and the Rise of White Supremacy,’ by David Zucchino (Atlantic Monthly Press)

This book tells the forgotten history of a coup against an elected multiracial government in North Carolina, tracing efforts by white supremacists to establish white rule in Wilmington while cinematically detailing the bloody assault on Black residents of the town. More than 60 people died, and Zucchino brings the story into the present by interviewing descendants of the perpetrators and those who bore the brunt of the assault.

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