It's Been Five Years Since A Woman Won The Pulitzer Prize For Fiction

by Kerri Jarema

The Pulitzer Prize for Fiction is one of the most prestigious awards that a writer can receive. Since 1917, The Pulitzer Prizes have honored work that is emblematic of its time, but also timeless; the work is determined by the prize board to have a lasting impact.

The Pulitzer Prize for Fiction is one of the most talked-about awards given in the Letters, Drama & Music category, as readers everywhere wait to see which book (novels of all genres, short story collections, and graphic novels which are written in English and first published in the U.S. by U.S. citizens are all eligible for the fiction prize) will become one of the country's most talked-about and celebrated pieces of fiction, not only over the next year, but for many years to come. But in the 103 years of the Pulitzer's storied history, very few women — only 30, in fact — have seen their fiction receive this highest honor.

Even more damning, only six women have been awarded the Fiction prize in the last two decades; no woman has won since 2014. And while Edith Wharton broke the barrier for white women in 1921 with her classic work The Age of Innocence, it wasn't until a whopping 62 years later, in 1983, that Alice Walker did the same for women of color with her novel The Color Purple. Since Walker's win, only two other women of color have received the honor: Toni Morrison in 1988 for Beloved and Jhumpa Lahiri for Interpreter of Maladies in 2000.

And the statistics have only gotten worse since the Pulitzer's inception: while 50% of women won the fiction prize in the '20s and 60% won in the '30s (the Pulitzer Prize was awarded for a "novel" until 1947, when it was changed to "fiction"), the highest the number has reached in any decade since is 40% in both the '80s and '00s, respectively. Since 2010, just two women have won the award.

While the Pulitzer's have done slightly better by women fiction writers than other prizes — out of 114 recipients only 14 women have won the Nobel Prize in Literature, for instance — we clearly still have a long way to go until women's work in this category is truly given the consideration it deserves. After all, just a quick look at the best fiction books of the past year is evidence enough that women are producing some of the most masterful and impactful novels and short stories today.

Keep reading below for more info on the six books by women that have won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction since 2000; here's hoping more will be joining their ranks soon:

'Interpreter of Maladies' by Jhumpa Lahiri (2000)

The 2000 winner, Lahiri's short story collection explores various characters as they navigate between the Indian traditions they've inherited and the baffling new world they now inhabit.

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'Gilead' by Marilynne Robinson (2005)

Gilead, which won the Pulitzer in 2005, is an intimate tale of three generations of fathers and sons from the Civil War to the 20th century.

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'March' by Geraldine Brooks (2006)

In her 2006 winner, Brooks takes the March father from Louisa May Alcott's classic Little Women, and imagines his time on the front lines of the Civil War.

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'Olive Kitteridge' by Elizabeth Strout (2009)

The 2009 winner, Olive Kitteridge follows a retired school teacher and her neighbors as they grapple with both personal problems and changes in their small town.

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'A Visit from the Goon Squad' by Jennifer Egan (2011)

A Visit From the Goon Squad was the 2011 winner, and it explores interweaving narratives of music and fate that circle the lives of an aging punk rock star and a young record executive.

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'The Goldfinch' by Donna Tartt (2014)

This 2014 winner follows 13-year-old Theo Decker's journey into the underworld of art after his mother's untimely death.

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