Little House on the Prairie lovers rejoice: writer Caroline Fraser was awarded the 2018 Pulitzer Prize for Biography, for her 2017 title Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder — as announced on April 16 by Pulitzer Administrator Dana Canedy, via a live-stream broadcast from Columbia University in New York. The Pulitzer Prize for Biography recognizes a distinguished and appropriately documented biography or autobiography by an American author, and comes with a $15,000 reward. Fellow 2018 nominees include John A. Farrell for Richard Nixon: The Life and Kay Redfield Jamison for Robert Lowell, Setting the River on Fire: A Study of Genius, Mania, and Character.
Published in November of last year, Prairie Fires won the National Book Critics Circle Award for Biography, was a New York Times Best Book of 2017, and is the first comprehensive historical biography of Laura Ingalls Wilder. In Prairie Fires, Fraser highlights the role Wilder and her true life-inspired children's novels played in shaping the mythology of American westward expansion — taking the grueling physical labor and poverty of her childhood and transforming it into the stuff of American dreams. The biography takes a closer look at the life story of Wilder's charming and relatable pioneer girl (aka: the young Laura Ingalls and her family, off the page) by drawing on unpublished manuscripts, letters, diaries, and land and financial records. Prairie Fires — like the 20th century novels that inspired it — celebrates the grit, self-reliance, resilience, and endurance of the American spirit.
In her opening remarks, Canedy was mindful to note the current political climate in which this year’s Pulitzers were awarded, highlighting the need for increasing diversity in political, racial and gender perspectives represented in American media and commending this year’s winners for upholding “the highest purpose of a free and independent press — even in the most trying of times.”
The Pulitzer Prize for Biography was one of the original Pulitzer Prizes, first awarded in 1917. Recent past winners in the category include last year’s Hisham Matar for The Return: Fathers, Sons and the Land in Between; William Finnegan in 2016, for his memoir Barbarian Days, David I. Kertzer for the dual biography The Pope and Mussolini: The Secret History of Pius XI and the Rise of Fascism in Europe; and Megan Marshall for her biography of 19th century women’s rights activist Margaret Fuller, Margaret Fuller: A New American Life.
For a full list of the winners and finalists, visit the Pulitzer Prize official website.