Books

Louise Erdrich's The Night Watchmen among 2021 Pulitzer Prize winners

The awards were announced on June 11, 2021 in a remote ceremony that honoured the best work in journalism and the arts in 2020.
The Night Watchman is a novel by Louise Erdrich. (Dawn Villella, Associated Press, HarperCollins)

Louise Erdrich has won the 2021 Pulitzer Prize for fiction for The Night Watchman.

Other winners for books include the late Les Payne and daughter Tamara Payne for their Malcolm X biography The Dead Are Arising.

The awards were announced on June 11 in a remote ceremony that honoured the best work in journalism and the arts in 2020, a year upended by the coronavirus pandemic, the racial reckoning after the police killing of George Floyd and the U.S. presidential election.

Erdrich has drawn on her Native American background for such acclaimed novels as The Round House and The Plague of Doves

In The Night Watchman, she looks back to her grandfather, a night watchman whose reservation in rural North Dakota is threatened in the 1950s by congressional legislation.

Previous honours for Erdrich, who turned 67 this week, include a National Book Award for The Round House and the National Book Critics Circle award for LaRose.

Eleanor spoke with Louise Erdrich, onstage, in front of a packed house at Harbourfront in Toronto. 52:08

The Pulitzer for The Dead Are Arising continues the posthumous acclaim for Les Payne, an award-winning Newsday journalist who died in 2018.

It's also the second Malcolm X biography to win a Pulitzer for an author who didn't live to see his book released. Manning Marable, whose Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention won for history in 2012, died shortly before publication.

Marcia Chatelain's Franchise: The Golden Arches in Black America won for history. Natalie Diaz's Postcolonial Love Poem was the poetry winner and David Zucchino's Wilmington's Lie: The Murderous Coup of 1898 and the Rise of White Supremacy was cited for general nonfiction.

Tania León's composition Stride won for music. The judges commended it for being "a musical journey full of surprise, with powerful brass and rhythmic motifs that incorporate Black music traditions from the U.S., and the Caribbean into a Western orchestral fabric."

The Hot Wing King by Katori Hall, a play set around a hot wing cooking competition, won the prize for drama during a theater season that saw most venues largely shuttered.

The drama award, which includes a $15,000 US prize, is "for a distinguished play by an American author, preferably original in its source and dealing with American life."

The Pulitzer board hailed The Hot Wing King as a "funny, deeply felt consideration of Black masculinity and how it is perceived, filtered through the experiences of a loving gay couple and their extended family as they prepare for a culinary competition."

Hall is the author of the Olivier Award-winning The Mountaintop and is a Tony Award-nominated co- playwright of Broadway's Tina — The Tina Turner Musical.

With most theaters closed during the pandemic, the Pulitzer Prize Board altered the requirements for this year's drama award, allowing postponed or cancelled works, as well as plays produced and performed in places other than theaters, including online, outside or in site-specific venues during calendar 2020.

The Hot Wing King opened off-Broadway just days before the city's theaters were closed.

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