Lynn Nottage's Sweat, which won for drama, explores how the shutdown of a Pennsylvania factory leads to the breakdown of friendship and family, and a devastating cycle of violence, prejudice, poverty and drugs. The play marks Nottage's Broadway debut and her second Pulitzer Prize. She is the writer of Intimate Apparel, By The Way, Meet Vera Stark and Ruined, which also won the Pulitzer.
"I was looking at how poverty and economic stagnation was beginning to shift our American narrative and how a culture was crying out," Nottage told the AP after her win Monday. "I'm very honored. I'm in a bit of a daze."
The history winner, Heather Ann Thompson's Blood in the Water: The Attica Prison Uprising of 1971 and Its Legacy, examines the events that unfolded starting Sept. 9, 1971, when nearly 1,300 prisoners took over the Attica Correctional Facility in upstate New York to protest years of mistreatment. The work reveals the crimes committed during the uprising and its aftermath, who committed them, and how they were covered up.
The general nonfiction winner was Matthew Desmond's Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City, set in Milwaukee and praised by the Pulitzer board as "a deeply researched expose that showed how mass evictions after the 2008 economic crash were less a consequence than a cause of poverty." Desmond, who last month won a National Book Critics Circle award, said Monday that he hoped his book would illuminate both the severity of the crisis and the role of government.
"You look at a public housing tower and a mortgaged suburban home," he told the AP. "Both are government subsidized, but they don't look anything alike. We seem a lot more willing to spend money on tax write-offs than on direct assistance."
Hisham Matar's The Return: Fathers, Sons and the Land in Between won for biography/autobiography; the Pulitzer board said Monday that Matar's memoir about his native Libya "examines with controlled emotion the past and present of an embattled region." Tyehimba Jess' "Olio" was the poetry winner, cited for melding performance art with poetry "to explore collective memory and challenge contemporary notions of race and identity."
The Pulitzer board gave the music award to Du Yun's Angel's Bone and called it a "bold" work which "integrates vocal and instrumental elements and a wide range of styles into a harrowing allegory for human trafficking in the modern world."
Yun had just returned from a day of panels at The Culture Summit in Abu Dhabi, and her librettist Royce Vavrek texted her the good news, which arrived close to midnight for Yun. She said that it was great to hear after a day of learning "how to use art and make art ... to advance cultural change" at The Culture Summit.
"I met a lot of people who work intensively with refugees and human trafficking, which was the top of my work," Yun said. "We just had this intense conversation about how to really use art to affect policies."
Associated Press writers Lynn Elber in Los Angeles and Mark Kennedy and Mesfin Fekadu in New York contributed to this story.