Pulitzer Prizes for the Arts

Cormac McCarthy And Ornette Coleman Bracket an Eclectic Field

By Bob Thompson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Lawrence Wright has won the Pulitzer Prize for general nonfiction for "The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11," a book he yesterday called "the most important thing I'll ever do in my life."

Cormac McCarthy won the fiction prize for his post-apocalyptic novel "The Road," giving the reclusive author a unique twofer this spring: Last month, McCarthy's novel became an Oprah's Book Club selection.

Newsmen Gene Roberts and Hank Klibanoff won the history Pulitzer for "The Race Beat: The Press, the Civil Rights Struggle and the Awakening of a Nation." The biography prize went to Debby Applegate for "The Most Famous Man in America: The Biography of Henry Ward Beecher."

Saxophonist and composer Ornette Coleman won the music prize for his album "Sound Grammar." Playwright David Lindsay-Abaire won the prize for drama for "Rabbit Hole."

Natasha Trethewey won the poetry prize for "Native Guard."

Reached at his home in Austin, Wright, a staff writer for the New Yorker, said it was "all the more humbling" to win the Pulitzer in "a year of extraordinary nonfiction books" and one in which so many journalistic colleagues "have risked or lost their lives."

"The Looming Tower," Wright said, "wasn't written to win a prize" but out of a sense of "personal mission" after the 9/11 attacks. He wanted both to "educate people about the roots of al-Qaeda," which he believed essential to the fight against Islamic radicalism, and to demonstrate "the abject failure of the American intelligence community to protect us and the ways in which they failed."

"We have still not learned this lesson," he said.

Gene Roberts has known more than his share of Pulitzer glory -- the Philadelphia Inquirer, under his editorship, won an astonishing 17 journalism Pulitzers in 18 years -- but he had never won one personally before.

"Feels good," he said. "Off and on it took 16 years to do this book," he added, and when he and Klibanoff finally had their manuscript accepted by the publisher, "my real thought was, 'Free at last!' "

One reason they wanted to write "The Race Beat," Roberts said, was to highlight the role, largely ignored or forgotten, of black journalists in the civil rights movement.

"Arguably there would not have been a civil rights movement without the black press," he said, because "its reason for being was to confront inequality," and it helped condition a couple of generations of African Americans to expect change. Roberts also noted the importance of a tiny cadre of liberal white editors in the South. The states'-rights justification for segregation was "a myth," he said, "but it was a myth more easily exposed by native Southerners" than by outsiders.

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