Adam Johnson wins 2013 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction

Having decided not to present an award after all in 2012 – with Karen Russell’s Swamplandia!, David Foster Wallace’s posthumous The Pale King and Denis Johnson’s Train Dreams collectively seen as a spit in the face to the prestige of the entire organisation, the first time such steps were taken since 1977 (or maybe the board just failed to agree on a clear winner) – the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction resumed its regular business this week, deeming Adam Johnson’s The Orphan Master’s Son as worthy of taking its place alongside work by prior winners Cormac McCarthy, Edith Wharton, John Steinbeck, Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner, Harper Lee, Saul Bellow, Norman Mailer, Philip Roth and pretty much every other major American author of the past century.

Johnson’s suddenly timely depiction of everyday life under totalitarianism in North Korea triumphed over fellow finalists Eowyn Ivey’s The Snow Child and Nathan Englander’s also suddenly pretty timely short story collection What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank. Judges described the book as ‘an exquisitely crafted novel that carries the reader on an adventuresome journey into the depths of totalitarian North Korea and into the most intimate spaces of the human heart.’

The book is only Johnson’s second novel, his first in nearly a decade, following 2003’s Parasites Like Us and his 2002 story collection Emporium. When he’s not winning the most prestigious prize in all of American literature, he’s an associate professor in creative writing at Stanford University, so you can imagine the pissing matches he’s about to have with his colleagues (‘oh, you think this student deserves a pass? Well, let me just see what my Pulitzer thinks’).

The Pulitzer Prize for Fiction was last awarded in 2011, to Jennifer Egan’s book of overlapping short stories disguised as a novel A Visit From the Goon Squad. Other notable 21st century winners include Michael Chabon, Jeffrey Eugenides and Junot Diaz.

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