On Monday afternoon, the much-anticipated winners of the 2017 Pulitzer Prizes were announced — which, as all book-lovers will know, is the book world's version of the Oscars. Yep, it's a big deal — and the announcement of Colson Whitehead winning the Pulitzer Prize in Fiction for his novel The Underground Railroad is pretty much the biggest deal of all. (And it went down without any awkward Moonlight/La La Land style hiccups — so in your face, Oscars.)
The 2017 Pulitzer Prizes celebrated the best journalism, fiction, and nonfiction writing from 2016, and there were so many strong contenders that it was impossible to predict who would scoop the grand prize — but Colson Whitehead certainly deserved the honor. The Pulitzer Prize in Fiction is just one more award for Whitehead to add to his already impressive resume; The Underground Railroad has already won the National Book Award for Fiction, as well as being selected for Oprah's book club. (Oh yeah, and Obama included it in his top five books to read over the summer.)
But who is Colson Whitehead himself? The New York-based novelist is the author of six novels and two nonfiction books, and once you've raced through The Underground Railroad, I recommend you work your way through his entire back catalogue. Whitehead's debut, The Institutionist, was published in 1999, and was described by GQ as "one of the best books of the millennium." In 2002, Whitehead was given a MacArthur Fellowship "Genius" Grant, which is one of the most prestigious grants in the country, awarded to individuals in any field who have shown "extraordinary originality and dedication in their creative pursuits." The Foundation praised Whitehead's "willingness to take the intellectual risks necessary to expand the boundaries of contemporary writing," and expressed their belief that he would make "further contributions to American literature." This recent Pulitzer Prize win confirms that he's done exactly that.
So Colson Whitehead has been writing incredible books for some time now, and along the way, he's been teaching at colleges such as Princeton University and Wesleyan University. Some lucky college students at Vassar College, the University of Richmond, and the University of Wyoming even got to spend time with Whitehead as their Writer-in-Residence — and I bet they came away with some pretty invaluable writing advice.
Winning the Pulitzer Prize in Fiction is one sure way to put an author on the map. Famous past winners include Viet Thanh Nguyen, whose novel The Sympathizer was the romance/spy novel hybrid that everyone read in 2016, and Donna Tartt for mega-tome The Goldfinch. Colson Whitehead's The Underground Railroad will be no exception; if you want to read the novel of the year, you're going to want to add The Underground Railroad to your book collection at once. And if your book club choose it as their pick for next month, I wouldn't be at all surprised.