2014 arts Pulitzer Prizes go to Annie Baker, John Luther Adams, Donna Tartt, others


Charlotte Observer editorial cartoonist Kevin Siers, right, gets a hug from a co-worker as the newsroom celebrates Siers winning the Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Cartooning. (Chuck Burton/AP)
April 14

This year’s arts Pulitzer Prize winners, announced Monday, include a young playwright whose early works were showcased at Studio Theatre in Washington, a composer whose large-scale orchestral works are deeply influenced by climate change and a veteran environmental reporter whose nonfiction book highlighted the links between a town’s chemical plant and the town’s high rates of children’s cancer. Here are the awards for drama, letters and music:

Drama: Annie Baker

The 33-year-old playwright received the Pulitzer for what the committee called “a thoughtful drama with well-crafted characters that focuses on three employees of a Massachusetts art-house movie theater, rendering lives rarely seen on the stage.” “The Flick” played off-Broadway at Playwrights Horizons in New York, dividing critics with its run time of 3 hours and 15 minutes.

Like some of her other plays, notably “Circle Mirror Transformation” and “The Aliens” (both of which have been produced by Studio Theatre), Baker’s “The Flick” is a beautifully observed portrait of the slow-cooking lives of ordinary people — in this case, workers in a dying movie house. Peter Marks, The Washington Post’s theater critic, said, “The play’s humdrum veneer masks, in Chekhovian fashion, the sad and funny wrinkles in her characters’ daily struggles, for recognition and connection.”

Music: John Luther Adams

Adams, 61, the winner for “Become Ocean,” is a passionate nature conservationist based in Alaska, a fact often brought up in association with his nature-oriented, large-scale, often site-specific works (such as “Inuksuit,” designed to be played outdoors by a percussion ensemble). “Music can contribute to the awakening of our ecological understanding,” he has said. “Become Ocean” was premiered by the Seattle Symphony under Ludovic Morlot in June. Anne Midgette, The Post’s music critic said, “Like much of Adams’s work, it conveys a sense of inexorable, massive natural forces.”

“Life on this earth first emerged from the sea,” Adams wrote in his program note to the piece. “As the polar ice melts and sea level rises, we humans find ourselves facing the prospect that once again we may quite literally become ocean.”

The Pulitzer committee called the 42-minute piece for orchestra “a haunting orchestral work that suggests a relentless tidal surge, evoking thoughts of melting polar ice and rising sea levels.”

Fiction: Donna Tartt

“The Goldfinch,” the Pulitzer committee said, is “a beautifully written coming-of-age novel with exquisitely drawn characters that follows a grieving boy’s entanglement with a small famous painting that has eluded destruction, a book that stimulates the mind and touches the heart.” Tartt, 50, is the author of three novels.

History: Alan Taylor

The Pulitzer committee called “The Internal Enemy: Slavery and War in Virginia, 1772-1832” “a meticulous and insightful account of why runaway slaves in the colonial era were drawn to the British side as potential liberators.” Taylor, 58, a leading historian of the Colonial era, won the 1996 history Pulitzer Prize for “William Cooper’s Town: Power and Persuasion on the Frontier of the Early American Republic.”

Biography: Megan Marshall

Marshall’s “Margaret Fuller: A New American Life” is “a richly researched book that tells the remarkable story of a 19th century author, journalist, critic and pioneering advocate of women’s rights who died in a shipwreck,” the Pulitzer committee said. Marshall, 59, was a Pulitzer finalist in 2006 for the biography “The Peabody Sisters: Three Women Who Ignited American Romanticism.

General nonfiction: Dan Fagin

Fagin, 51, spent 14 years at Newsday as an environmental reporter, where he was a principal member of two reporting teams that were finalists for Pulitzer Prizes in journalism. “Toms River: A Story of Science and Salvation” is “a book that deftly combines investigative reporting and historical research to probe a New Jersey seashore town’s cluster of childhood cancers linked to water and air pollution,” the Pulitzer committee said.

Poetry: Vijay Seshadri

The committee called Seshadri’s “3 Sections” “a compelling collection of poems that examine human consciousness, from birth to dementia, in a voice that is by turns witty and grave, compassionate and remorseless.” Seshadri, 60, previously a staff writer at the New Yorker, is a Brooklyn-based poet who directs the graduate nonfiction writing program at Sarah Lawrence College.

Anne Midgette and Peter Marks contributed to this report.

Katherine Boyle reports on arts, museums and culture for the Style section.
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