The Washington Post

Arts Pulitzers include winners with D.C. connections

Rehearsal image from Woolly Mammoth Theatre’s “Clybourne Park” in 2010. (Stan Barouh)

A play that ran at the District’s Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company on D Street NW — opening a few weeks after its premiere at Playwrights Horizons in New York — won the Pulitzer Prize for drama Monday afternoon. “Clybourne Park,” a barbed comedy by New York writer Bruce Norris that chronicles racial and generational shifts in a Chicago neighborhood, opened in March 2010 under the direction of Woolly Mammoth’s co-founder, Howard Shalwitz.

“Bruce is one of the few really political-motivated writers, and I mean ‘political’ in a broad sense,” Shalwitz said. “His writing tends to be a critique of liberal America in some ways, and he’s always trying to come at contemporary social and political issues from a sharp critical angle. At the same time he’s a comic genius. That puts him right in middle of Woolly tradition.”

“Clybourne Park” and its staging of urban gentrification resonated in the District and prompted robust post-show discussions, according to Shalwitz, who is bringing back the play for a return engagement July 21 to Aug. 14.

The Pulitzer Prizes, which are administered by Columbia University and honor work in arts and journalism, were announced Monday at 3 p.m. in New York. Another arts winner connected to the capital is Kay Ryan, who was appointed the United States’ 16th poet laureate by the Library of Congress in 2008 and currently teaches at the College of Marin. Ryan was cited for “The Best of It: New and Selected Poems,” made up of work spanning 45 years.

New York-based novelist and journalist Jennifer Egan won the Pulitzer for fiction for “A Visit From the Goon Squad,” a structure-busting novel about aging in a world calcified by artifice and technology (it ends with a transcribed 70-page PowerPoint presentation).

“Some people have seen it as a more dystopian vision than I ever imagined it to be,” Egan said by phone as she prepared a Passover dinner at her home in New York. “It’s a book very much about time, but it’s not about how everything goes wrong overall. I was interested in capturing the surprising discovery of time having passed. One of the biggest surprises is that the book seems to really appeal to young people. . . . There’s this idea that the novel sort of mimics the effect of the Internet and social networking, though those were not metaphors in my mind as I wrote.”

The prize for music was awarded to Beijing-born Zhou Long’s opera “Madame White Snake,” which Opera Boston premiered in February 2010 at the Cutler Majestic Theatre. Zhou, who became a U.S. citizen in 1999, is known for marrying the music traditions of the East and West, such translating Peking-opera-style singing into the range of a Western-trained opera singer.

Two American presidents inspired the winning work in the history and biography categories.

Eric Foner, a professor at Columbia University who specializes in 19th-century America, won the history prize for “The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery,” which was cited by the Pulitzer board as a “well orchestrated examination of Lincoln’s changing views of slavery, bringing unforeseeable twists and a fresh sense of improbability to a familiar story.”

Brooklyn-based National Book Award-winner Ron Chernow won the biography prize for “Washington: A Life,” a sprawling, 904-page illumination of the United States’ first president.

Cancer physician and researcher Siddhartha Mukherjee, an assistant professor of medicine at Columbia University, won the general nonfiction Pulitzer for “The Emperor of All Maladies,” an examination of cancer over the course of millenniums.

Pulitzers for the arts come with a $10,000 prize. Three candidates are nominated per category, and a winner is selected by the Pulitzer board, whose 17 voting members must reach a majority vote in order to award a prize.

Dan Zak is a feature writer and general assignment reporter based in the Style section. He joined the Post in 2005, after stints as an editorial assistant at Entertainment Weekly and a city-desk reporter and obituary writer at The Buffalo News.



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