[The JRB Daily] 2020 Pulitzer Prize winners announced—Colson Whitehead becomes only the fourth author to win fiction prize for the second time

American author Colson Whitehead has won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for his novel The Nickel Boys.

Whitehead becomes only the fourth writer to win the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction twice, after winning in 2017 for The Underground Railroad, which also won the Arthur C Clarke Award, an Andrew Carnegie Medal and the National Book Award.

Whitehead joins Booth Tarkington, William Faulkner and John Updike in this exclusive club, and becomes first author of colour to accomplish the feat. (No woman has yet won the Pulitzer for fiction twice.)

Whitehead continues his trailblazing with the win. With The Underground Railroad, he became only the second writer of colour and sixth writer ever to win both a National Book Award and a Pulitzer Prize for the same novel.

The Pulitzer Prizes are among the highest honours for United States-based journalists and authors. They are awarded in fifteen journalism and seven book, drama and music categories. Apart from the Public Service Award, the winners of which receive a gold medal, each Pulitzer winner receives $15,000 (about R276,000).

The 2020 awards were postponed for several weeks due to the coronavirus. Usually revealed at Columbia University in New York, this year the winners were announced remotely, from the living room of Pulitzer administrator Dana Canedy.

In her introduction, Canedy noted that the first Pulitzers were awarded less than a year before the outbreak of the Spanish Flu, in 1917.

‘It goes without saying that today, we announce the Pulitzer winners in deeply trying times,’ Canedy said. ‘Despite relentless assaults on objective truth, coordinated efforts to undermine our nation’s free press and persistent economic headwinds, journalists continue to pursue and deliver essential facts and truths to keep us safe and protect our democracy.’

Canedy added that the arts continue to ‘sustain, unite and inspire’.

Judges called The Nickel Boys ‘a spare and devastating exploration of abuse at a reform school in Jim Crow-era Florida that is ultimately a powerful tale of human perseverance, dignity and redemption’.

The Dutch House by Ann Patchett and The Topeka School by Ben Lerner were the other finalists in the category.

Jericho Brown won the poetry award for his collection The Tradition, which judges called ‘a collection of masterful lyrics that combine delicacy with historical urgency in their loving evocation of bodies vulnerable to hostility and violence’.

Dunce, by Mary Ruefle and Only as the Day Is Long: New and Selected Poems, by Dorianne Laux were the other finalists in the Poetry category.

The prize for General Nonfiction was won by two books: The Undying: Pain, Vulnerability, Mortality, Medicine, Art, Time, Dreams, Data, Exhaustion, Cancer and Care by Anne Boyer and The End of the Myth: From the Frontier to the Border Wall in the Mind of America by Greg Grandin. The Biography Prize went to Benjamin Moser for Sontag: Her Life and Work.

Watch the prize announcement here:

2020 Pulitzer Prize winners


Breaking News Reporting

Staff of The Courier-Journal, Louisville, Ky.

For its rapid coverage of hundreds of last-minute pardons by Kentucky’s governor, showing how the process was marked by opacity, racial disparities and violations of legal norms. (Moved by the jury from Local Reporting, where it was originally entered.)

Investigative Reporting

Brian M Rosenthal of The New York Times

For an exposé of New York City’s taxi industry that showed how lenders profited from predatory loans that shattered the lives of vulnerable drivers, reporting that ultimately led to state and federal investigations and sweeping reforms.

Explanatory Reporting

Staff of The Washington Post

For a groundbreaking series that showed with scientific clarity the dire effects of extreme temperatures on the planet.

Local Reporting

Staff of The Baltimore Sun

For illuminating, impactful reporting on a lucrative, undisclosed financial relationship between the city’s mayor and the public hospital system she helped to oversee.

National Reporting

T Christian Miller, Megan Rose and Robert Faturechi of ProPublica

For their investigation into America’s 7th Fleet after a series of deadly naval accidents in the Pacific.

Dominic Gates, Steve Miletich, Mike Baker and Lewis Kamb of The Seattle Times

For groundbreaking stories that exposed design flaws in the Boeing 737 MAX that led to two deadly crashes and revealed failures in government oversight.

International Reporting

Staff of The New York Times

For a set of enthralling stories, reported at great risk, exposing the predations of Vladimir Putin’s regime.

Feature Writing

Ben Taub of The New Yorker

For a devastating account of a man who was kidnapped, tortured and deprived of his liberty for more than a decade at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility, blending on-the-ground reporting and lyrical prose to offer a nuanced perspective on America’s wider war on terror. (Moved into contention by the Board.)


Nikole Hannah-Jones of The New York Times

For a sweeping, deeply reported and personal essay for the ground-breaking 1619 Project, which seeks to place the enslavement of Africans at the center of America’s story, prompting public conversation about the nation’s founding and evolution.


Christopher Knight of the Los Angeles Times

For work demonstrating extraordinary community service by a critic, applying his expertise and enterprise to critique a proposed overhaul of the LA County Museum of Art and its effect on the institution’s mission.

Editorial Writing

Jeffery Gerritt of the Palestine (Tx.) Herald Press

For editorials that exposed how pre-trial inmates died horrific deaths in a small Texas county jail—reflecting a rising trend across the state—and courageously took on the local sheriff and judicial establishment, which tried to cover up these needless tragedies.

Editorial Cartooning

Barry Blitt, contributor, The New Yorker

For work that skewers the personalities and policies emanating from the Trump White House with deceptively sweet watercolour style and seemingly gentle caricatures. (Moved into contention by the Board.)

Breaking News Photography

Photography Staff of Reuters

For wide-ranging and illuminating photographs of Hong Kong as citizens protested infringement of their civil liberties and defended the region’s autonomy by the Chinese government.

Feature Photography

Channi Anand, Mukhtar Khan and Dar Yasin of Associated Press

For striking images of life in the contested territory of Kashmir as India revoked its independence, executed through a communications blackout.

Audio Reporting

Staff of This American Life with Molly O’Toole of the Los Angeles Times and Emily Green, freelancer, Vice News

For ‘The Out Crowd’, revelatory, intimate journalism that illuminates the personal impact of the Trump Administration’s ‘Remain in Mexico’ policy.

Public Service

Anchorage Daily News with contributions from ProPublica

For a riveting series that revealed a third of Alaska’s villages had no police protection, took authorities to task for decades of neglect, and spurred an influx of money and legislative changes.

Letters, Drama and Music


A Strange Loop, by Michael R Jackson

A metafictional musical that tracks the creative process of an artist transforming issues of identity, race, and sexuality that once pushed him to the margins of the cultural mainstream into a meditation on universal human fears and insecurities.


Sweet Taste of Liberty: A True Story of Slavery and Restitution in America, by W Caleb McDaniel (Oxford University Press)

A masterfully researched meditation on reparations based on the remarkable story of a nineteenth century woman who survived kidnapping and re-enslavement to sue her captor.


Sontag: Her Life and Work, by Benjamin Moser (Ecco)

An authoritatively constructed work told with pathos and grace, that captures the writer’s genius and humanity alongside her addictions, sexual ambiguities and volatile enthusiasms.


The Tradition, by Jericho Brown (Copper Canyon Press)

A collection of masterful lyrics that combine delicacy with historical urgency in their loving evocation of bodies vulnerable to hostility and violence.

General Nonfiction

The Undying: Pain, Vulnerability, Mortality, Medicine, Art, Time, Dreams, Data, Exhaustion, Cancer and Care, by Anne Boyer (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

An elegant and unforgettable narrative about the brutality of illness and the capitalism of cancer care in America.

The End of the Myth: From the Frontier to the Border Wall in the Mind of America, by Greg Grandin (Metropolitan Books)

A sweeping and beautifully written book that probes the American myth of boundless expansion and provides a compelling context for thinking about the current political moment. (Moved by the Board from the History category.)


The Central Park Five, by Anthony Davis

Premiered on June 15, 2019 at the Long Beach Opera, a courageous operatic work, marked by powerful vocal writing and sensitive orchestration, that skillfully transforms a notorious example of contemporary injustice into something empathetic and hopeful. Libretto by Richard Wesley.


The Nickel Boys, by Colson Whitehead (Doubleday)

A spare and devastating exploration of abuse at a reform school in Jim Crow-era Florida that is ultimately a powerful tale of human perseverance, dignity and redemption.

Special Citation

Ida B Wells

For her outstanding and courageous reporting on the horrific and vicious violence against African Americans during the era of lynching.

The citation comes with a bequest by the Pulitzer Prize board of at least $50,000 in support of her mission. Recipients will be announced at a later date.

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