2022 Pulitzer Prize Winners: Books and Drama

This year’s Pulitzer Prize winners.

It’s the 106th year honoring excellence in journalism and the arts. http://Pulitzer.org. #Pulitzer

Fiction

The Netanyahus: An Account of a Minor and Ultimately Even Negligible Episode in the History of a Very Famous Family, by Joshua Cohen (New York Review Books)

A mordant, linguistically deft historical novel about the ambiguities of the Jewish-American experience, presenting ideas and disputes as volatile as its tightly-wound plot.

Finalists

Monkey Boy, by Francisco Goldman (Grove Press)

Palmares, by Gayl Jones (Beacon Press)

Drama

Fat Ham, by James Ijames

A funny, poignant play that deftly transposes “Hamlet” to a family barbecue in the American South to grapple with questions of identity, kinship, responsibility, and honesty.

Finalists

Kristina Wong, Sweatshop Overlord, by Kristina Wong

Selling Kabul, by Sylvia Khoury

History

Covered with Night, by Nicole Eustace (Liveright/Norton)

A gripping account of Indigenous justice in early America, and how the aftermath of a settler’s murder of a Native American man led to the oldest continuously recognized treaty in the United States.

Cuba: An American History, by Ada Ferrer (Scribner)

An original and compelling history, spanning five centuries, of the island that became an obsession for many presidents and policy makers, transforming how we think about the U.S. in Latin America, and Cuba in American society.

Finalists:

Until Justice Be Done: America’s First Civil Rights Movement, from the Revolution to Reconstruction, by Kate Masur (W. W. Norton & Company)

Biography

Chasing Me to My Grave: An Artist’s Memoir of the Jim Crow South, by the late Winfred Rembert as told to Erin I. Kelly (Bloomsbury)

A searing first-person illustrated account of an artist’s life during the 1950s and 1960s in an unreconstructed corner of the deep South–an account of abuse, endurance, imagination, and aesthetic transformation.

Finalists

Pessoa: A Biography, by Richard Zenith (Liveright/Norton)

The Doctors Blackwell: How Two Pioneering Sisters Brought Medicine to Women and Women to Medicine, by Janice P. Nimura (W. W. Norton & Company)

Poetry

frank: sonnets, by Diane Seuss (Graywolf Press)

A virtuosic collection that inventively expands the sonnet form to confront the messy contradictions of contemporary America, including the beauty and the difficulty of working-class life in the Rust Belt.

Finalists

Refractive Africa: Ballet of the Forgotten, by Will Alexander (New Directions)

Yellow Rain, by Mai Der Vang (Graywolf Press)

General Nonfiction

Invisible Child: Poverty, Survival & Hope in an American City, by Andrea Elliott (Random House)

An affecting, deeply reported account of a girl who comes of age during New York City’s homeless crisis–a portrait of resilience amid institutional failure that successfully merges literary narrative with policy analysis.

Finalists

Home, Land, Security: Deradicalization and the Journey Back from Extremism, by Carla Power (One World/Random House)

The Family Roe: An American Story, by Joshua Prager (W. W. Norton & Company)

Dreaming in French: The Paris Years of Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy, Susan Sontag, and Angela Davis

A compelling look at three talented women and their youthful time, separately, in Paris and the great city’s influence on their lives.

It reads like the plot of a novel – three women from different backgrounds spend time in the early 20s in Paris, returning to the U.S. transformed. One, raised in an upper crust East Coast society family and named “Deb of the Year,” would become the very polished and popular wife of a handsome president doomed to be assassinated. The middle class girl from a North Hollywood family became, after her Paris sojourn, a well-respected writer. The third, though she was raised as an African American in the segregated south, came from an upper middle class family and spent time in Manhattan studying at a private school. She eventually would be acquitted of murder as a member of a radical fringe group.

“If you reduce them to identity labels, they are the soul of diversity: a Catholic debutante, a Jewish intellectual, an African-American revolutionary, from the East Coast, the West Coast, and the South,” writes Alice Kaplan, a  Sterling Professor of French and Director of the Whitney Humanities Center at Yale University in her book, “Dreaming in French: The Paris Years of Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy, Susan Sontag, and Angela Davis” (University of Chicago Press 2013; $26). “They have often been reduced to their images: a sheath dress and a double strand of pearls, a mane of black hair with a white streak, an afro and a raised fist.”

Kaplan explores the time each spent in Paris and how those experiences shaped them, making all three cultural icons and bringing all both fame – for Kennedy and Sontag and controversy – for Davis.

Kaplan, the author of such books as French Lessons, and Looking for “The Stranger,” earned a Ph.D. from Yale University with a major in French and a minor in philosophy and is a recipient of the French Légion d’Honneur as well the Los Angeles Times Book Prize in History (for The Collaborator) and the Henry Adams Prize (for The Interpreter).

“I wanted to find that existential threshold where you start to see what you can do with what you’ve been given,” Kaplan of this examination of a period in each woman’s life. And, Kaplan points out, while the men who spent time in France and came back in some ways different – think Ernest Hemingway and Norman Mailer, women like Kennedy, Sontag and Davis “have not had a place in the great American tradition of expatriate literature.”

Until now.

Capote’s Women: The Story of the Writers’ Swans

“There are certain women who, though perhaps not born rich, are born to be rich,” author Truman Capote wrote about the beautiful, well-dressed, and style-setting women he called his “swans.”

The ultimate arm candy for the wealthiest and most powerful of men, these women of the mid-20th century were trophy wives before the term existed. And they counted Capote, the author of Breakfast at Tiffany’s and creator of the true crime genre with In Cold Blood, his chilling recounting of the brutal murders of a Kansas family, as their best friend.

In Capote’s Women: A True Story of Love, Betrayal, and a Swan Song for an Era, New York Times best-selling author Laurence Leamer takes us back to a time and a world where jet-setting, making the best-dressed list, attending and giving A-plus list parties, and dining at the most wonderful places whether in New York, Paris, London, or wherever your yacht happened to be moored were what these exalted women excelled at.

Obtaining their lifestyles depended upon a confluence of beauty, wit, moxie, and marrying and knowing when to discard husbands as they worked their way up and up. At times, divorce papers were barely signed before the next wedding was held.

“You have to enter into their lives,” says Leamer, explaining how he so succinctly captured the personalities of the swans: Gloria Guinness, Marella Agnelli, Slim Hayward, Pamela Churchill, C.Z. Guest and Lee Radziwill who constantly seethed because of the attention her older sister, Jackie Kennedy, always received.

“Even though,” Leamer points out, “unlike Jackie she didn’t want to do the hard work that it takes to achieve something.”

These women knew how to climb to higher heights. Gloria Guinness had transitioned from a childhood of constant motion in Mexico and marriage at age 20 to a man 27 years older to marrying a German aristocrat and a romantic involvement with a top Nazi during World War II. Her third marriage was to the grandson of an Egyptian King and her last, the biggest prize, was to a scion of the Guinness beer family who was also a member of Parliament. Other wins were modeling for big time designers and the best of the fashion magazines as well as being on the International Best Dressed List for several years.

But ultimately, she wasn’t happy says Leamer who believes she committed suicide.

There was also Barbara “Babe” Paley whose mother raised her   three daughters to marry money. Paley, who had been badly injured in an automobile accident when young, spent her life in considerable pain. Her husband expected perfection in all things and so she never slept in the same bedroom, so she could the loss of her front teeth.

But being the best wasn’t always the answer to happy life. The swans may have had uber-wealthy husbands, but they didn’t have good husbands. Frequently husbands and wives were flagrantly promiscuous, and the swans often led separate lives not only from their spouses but also their children.

“For them, to be a mom was to be hands-off,” says Leamer. “And the children often paid a price. They didn’t necessary learn to do anything because they were going to inherit a lot of money.”

Ornamental to the max, these were women who did nothing but did it extremely well. And Capote, despite his great literary successes, spent a lot of time doing nothing with them. He listened to their secrets and ultimately decided to write a book revealing what he had heard. When an article he penned revealed some of those stories, the swans all turned against him, and he was exiled from the society he craved.

“I went to a family wedding recently,” says Leamer noting the warmth and connectiveness that everyone had. “These women and Capote never had this.”

It’s such a cliché to say money doesn’t buy happiness. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t true. And it certainly is delicious to read about the lives of women who many thought had it all even though they didn’t.

Online Book Event


Join Laurence Leamer in an online event hosted by the American Writer’s Museum in Chicago when he reads from and discusses his new book.”

When: October 13 at 6:30 p.m.

How to Join In: This program will be hosted online via Zoom. To register, visit americanwritersmuseum.org/program-calendar/laurence-leamer-capotes-women/

Ben Hecht: Fighting Words, Moving Pictures

              When we think of Ben Hecht—and really, how many of us do? it’s because the college drop-out, turned Chicago Daily News reporter and then screenwriter personifies the early part of the 19th century. He was a war and crime journalist who went beyond writing and instead helped solve murder cases, along with the help of fellow newsman, Charlie MacArthur of the Chicago Examiner.  

Adina Hoffman

              Indeed many people, including author Adina Hoffman know and love Hecht’s movies including such classics as Scarface, Twentieth Century, The Front Page and Notorious without even knowing his name.

              “I worked as a film critic throughout the 90s, and it was only when I started to really involve myself in film history that I read Hecht’s memoir, A Child of the Century,” says Hoffman, author of the just released Ben Hecht: Fighting Words, Moving Pictures (Yale University Press 2018; Amazon price $17.61), noting there is so much of Hecht’s DNA in the movies made during the Golden Age of Hollywood.

              But as Hoffman read more and more about Hecht, she realized there was more to him than a Jazz Age writer who overindulged in a variety of vices.

“I realized that his screenwriting was in some ways just the start of it,” says Hoffman, whose biography of Taha Muhammad Ali, My Happiness was named one of the best twenty books of 2009 by the Barnes & Noble Review and won the UK’s 2010 Jewish Quarterly-Wingate Prize.  “Maybe for him, it was the least of it. Hecht had multiple occupations—really preoccupations—and threw himself with gusto into being a journalist, novelist, playwright, a film director, producer, a memoirist, and Jewish activist, someone passionately engaged with the future of Palestine/Israel. I was fascinated by that multiplicity of his, by all the hats he managed to wear at once and with such incredible panache—even genius.”

              Hoffman also deeply identified with Hecht’s desire to be involved in a serious if playful way with several realms at once and his having multiple job descriptions much as she does.

“At the same time, there are certain things that set Hecht apart from me in a very basic way: his political positions in terms of Israel/Palestine are approximately the opposite of my own, and I thought it would be an interesting challenge to write about someone with whom I strongly disagree on this front,” she says.

              Though she’s spent much of her adult life living in Jerusalem, Hoffman did the majority of her research at The Newberry in Chicago which holds Hecht’s papers.

              “He seems to have been friend or colleague or rhetorical sparring partner to or with almost anybody who was anybody in twentieth century culture,” says Hoffman.  “I’d find myself in the course of a day reading these incredibly lively, funny letters and telegrams to and from everyone from David O. Selznick to Carl Sandburg, Menachem Begin, Katharine Hepburn, George Grosz, Sherwood Anderson, the gangster Mickey Cohen, Groucho Marx, and on and on. There are also marvelous photographs, drafts of his work, scrapbooks, objects—passports, pipes, letter openers, and even his first Oscar.”

              Hoffman says one of the purposes of her book is for Hecht to be much better remembered than he is today.

“He was someone who played a central role in creating American popular culture as we know it, but he’s been almost completely forgotten,” she says. “I think people around Chicago and in the Midwest know more about him than most others. I got an awful lot of blank or confused looks when people would ask me what I was working on and I’d say a book about Ben Hecht. The full range of his accomplishment or accomplishments is something I’d like people to realize—and also the complex way that his Jewishness figured into the rest of it. Hecht claimed he ‘became a Jew in 1939’—which is to say, he became a Jew because of the Holocaust—but I totally disagree. Being Jewish was always a part of him, as was being American. And there was absolutely no contradiction in his being both things at once and in the most vital way.”

Ifyougo:

What: Author talk and book signing

When: Tuesday, February 19 at 6 pm

Where: Ruggles Hall, The Newberry, 60 West Walton St., Chicago, IL

Cost: Free and open to the public. Registration required.

FYI: (312) 943-9090; newberry.org

Book review, signing: New book offers fresh take on Gary/Chicago resident, Nelson Algren

Mary Wisniewski was a college student when she first discovered the writings of Chicago writer Nelson Algren.

Author Mary Wisniewski

“Many of his books were set in Wicker Park where my family was from which intrigued me,” says Wisniewski, noting that though Algren’s novels are about shady characters, drug addicts, grifters, drifters and those on the margins of society, she found his writing lyrical, beautiful and poetic.

“It turned me into an Algren hag,” she says

“I told all my friends to read his books, and I started reading everything he had written that I could find — I found it surprising that his writings weren’t part of the literature canon in colleges,” Wisniewski says.

From there it became a natural progression to writing “Algren: A Life,” winner of the 2017 Society of Midland Authors award for best biography and the Chicago Writers Association award for best non-fiction, and the first biography about Algren in more than a quarter-century.

Delving more and more into his life, Wisniewski even read his FBI file, a mammoth collection of investigative reports because of his leftist leanings and, as Wisniewski says, “his belief that the crust of civilization in America is pretty thin.”

Algren lived a chaotic life that included a long-term love affair with French writer, Simone de Beauvoir, who had another lover, the French philosopher, Paul Sartre. Besides sharing a woman, they were friends and liked to box.

Algren often was short of funds — famed Chicago writer and broadcaster Studs Terkel, who was a friend, lent him money, which Algren always repaid. And he married and divorced three times. Having the FBI hounding him and taking away his passport didn’t help.

He also became discouraged with his lack of commercial success, even though two of his novels were made into films with major stars — “The Man with the Golden Arm” starred Frank Sinatra and Kim Novak (another Chicagoan), and “Walk on the Wild Side” featured Lawrence Harvey and Jane Fonda. Through it all, he continued writing.

Surprisingly for someone who wrote about the underside of life, he also expressed feminist sensitivities much earlier than most, Wisniewski says.

“In the 1950s, he wrote an essay about how Playboy magazine objectified women and turned them into commodities,” she says.

Algren, whose grandfather and father were from the Black Oak neighborhood of Gary, also had a Northwest Indiana connection, owned a home in Miller Beach.

The Nelson Algren Museum of Miller Beach, located in the 1928 Telephone Building once owned by his friend, David Peltz, is now owned by the Indiana Landmarks Foundation.

“I think Algren’s time has come again,” Wisniewski says.

“I think he’s like Dickens in London; he’s given Chicago a way to see itself. I always tell people that once they get a Chicago address and CTA card, they need to buy his book, “Chicago: City on the Make.”

If you go:

What: Join Mary Wisniewski as she discusses Nelson Algren and his work. Book signing to follow.

When: 6:30 p.m. Dec. 11

Where: The Betty Barclay Community Room at the Edgewater Branch of the Chicago Public Library, 6000 N. Broadway, Chicago.

FYI: (312) 742-1945; chipublib.org

Al Capone: His Life, Legacy, and Legend

Deirdre Bair wasn’t that familiar with Al Capone. Beyond the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, she’d been more focused on literary biographies, racking up numerous awards including the National Book Award. But when she was contacted by a friend who had a friend who knew someone (yes, it went like that) who wanted help in solving some family mysteries about Al Capone she was intrigued.

“I asked what does he want, a private investigator or a ghost writer?”

The man was a relative of the infamous gangster and after they talked, Bair received phone calls from other Capone relatives.

“They called me and said we’re getting old, we want our story to be told,” recalls Bair.

And so began years of interviews, extensive research and writing as Blair learned from Capone’s surviving family members about the Capone they knew—a devoted father, a loved husband, a kindly caretaker of his relatives.

“There are so many legends about him,” says Blair, noting more than 100 books have been written about Capone. Her book, “Al Capone: His Life, Legacy, and Legend” (Nan A. Talese 2016; $30) is the first to have the cooperation of his family who provided her with exclusive access to personal testimony and archival documents.

Of course there’s the Jazz Age, bootlegging Capone. But in his brief arc of fame and success—Bair points out that he took control of his gang at 25 and by 31 was ill, broke and in prison, he became a role model for, of all things, business management.

“The Harvard Business School did a case study of how he ran his business,” says Bair. “Today the Bulgarian Mafia say they study Capone. So many people tell me a generation or two later, he could have been a CEO.”

His family saw him as loving. His wife May, says Bair, said she knew every bad thing he’d done (and we know he did a whole lot of bad stuff) but she still loved him. His son remembered him as a great dad.

“Every day was a revelation,” says Bair. “But I don’t think anyone will ever have the final answer as to who he really was. He’s a riddle, a conundrum and an enigma.”

 

 

 

 

 

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