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Books Examining America's Racial History Headline 2009 Pulitzer Prizes for Art

Strout, the fiction winner, said she was still trying to "absorb the fact that I won this." Her first two books, the novels "Amy and Isabelle" and "Abide With Me," were bestsellers that were also widely praised by critics. But for "Olive Kitteridge," she said, the nature of her title character -- a strong-minded retired schoolteacher in coastal Maine -- dictated the form of linked stories.

"Olive is a very powerful force on the page," Strout explained, and to have her at the center of a traditional novel would be too intense.

"Ruined," now running in a widely praised production at Manhattan Theatre Club, is the latest play by Nottage, 44, to put an incisively human face on an issue of pressing social concern. Set in the "recent past" in a mining town bar in the Congo, the drama revolves around a vivacious cafe owner and bordello operator who takes in younger women, including some who have been "ruined" -- that is, raped by marauding soldiers and rebels and thereafter consigned to the status of outcast.

The Pulitzer board in this case overlooked the requirement that a winning play be concerned with an American topic, opting to recognize Nottage's skillful integration of rich characters into a sophisticated plot with universal implications.

Merwin's prize was his second Pulitzer. The poet, now 81, won in 1971 for "The Carrier of Ladders."

The Pulitzer Prize for music tacitly acknowledged the lifetime achievement of Reich, who is among the greatest living composers but who was long viewed as a renegade by the conservative music establishment. Reich's winning composition, "Double Sextet," is the latest in a long sequence of pieces juxtaposing live musicians playing against a recording.

Reich, 72, had been a finalist for the prize more than a dozen times. He observed that many great composers have never won a Pulitzer: Morton Feldman, Philip Glass and John Coltrane, among them. As for himself, "better late than never," he said from his home in Pound Ridge, N.Y. He considers "Double Sextet" "a very good piece. It may not be 'Music for 18 Musicians' or 'Tehillim' " -- seminal pieces he's written -- "but for me it's in the top drawer. I'm self-critical; I wouldn't say that about every piece. But I'm proud to win it for this one."

Staff writers Bob Thompson, Peter Marks and Anne Midgette contributed to this story.

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