In review

2023 Pulitzer Prize-winning books, in review

Here's a look at why these books came out on top as the best releases of the year

The winners and finalists of the 2023 Pulitzer Prizes were announced on May 8, including 19 literary honorees. The Pulitzer judges awarded prizes in the categories of history, biography, memoir, poetry, general nonfiction, and fiction, where two books were declared the winner for the first time in the award's history. Here's a list of the books being recognized this year. 

Fiction: 'Demon Copperhead' by Barbara Kingsolver and 'Trust' by Hernan Diaz 

Kingsolver's "Demon Copperhead" is a "masterful recasting" of Charles Dickens's "David Copperfield," centered in Appalachia. The story is narrated by Demon, a young man battling poverty and addiction as he develops his artistic instincts. The Washington Post's book critic, Ron Charles, called "Demon Copperhead" his favorite novel of 2022. Charles described the book as "equal parts hilarious and heartbreaking," Kingsolver didn't "merely reclothed Dickens's characters in modern dress and resettled them in southern Appalachia," Charles wrote. She has "reconceived the story in the fabric of contemporary life." Order here

If you're intrigued by fresh contemporary retellings of classics, 2019's "Pride: A Pride & Prejudice Remix" by Ibi Zoboi is another standout in the category. The book takes Jane Austen's classic, centers it around an Afro-Latino family in Brooklyn, and turns it into an examination of the fallout of gentrification. 

"Trust," Diaz's second novel, tells the story of the fortune of a 20th-century financier and his wife "eccentric, brilliant wife," The New York Times says. Their story is told through four linked narratives written in different literary styles. Each of the book's sections "subverts everything readers think they know about the story, posing questions about the human costs of wealth," the Times adds. The Pulitzer Committee called "Trust" a "complex examination of love and power in a country where capitalism is king." Order here.

Diaz's first novel, "In the Distance," was a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize in 2018. His debut Western novel made a splash as the largely unknown author racked up nominations for the country's top literary awards and is worth revisiting now that he has clinched a win. 

Finalist: "The Immortal King Rao" by Vauhini Vara

History: 'Freedom's Dominion: A Saga of White Resistance to Federal Power' by Jefferson Cowie

Vanderbilt University historian Cowie chronicles the generations-long fraught relationship between a community of white Alabama residents and the federal government, creating a portrait that captures the evolution of white supremacy by drawing connections between the desire to oppress others and the government standing in the way. Times critic Jeff Shesol said it's "essential reading for anyone who hopes to understand the unholy union, more than 200 years strong, between racism and the rabid loathing of government." Order here

History enthusiasts will likely enjoy some of Cowie's previous award-winning work. His 2010 "Stayin' Alive: The 1970s and the Last Days of the Working Class" was lauded as a "swan song for the American working class" by Kirkus Reviews

Finalists: "Watergate: A New History" by Garrett M. Graff; "Seeing Red: Indigenous Land, American Expansion and the Political Economy of Plunder in North America" by Michael John Witgen

Biography: 'G-Man: J. Edgar Hoover and the Making of the American Century' by Beverly Gage

It's been nearly three decades since someone tried to tackle the story of the polarizing American figure and law enforcement legend J. Edgar Hoover. Gage relies on previously classified documents to flesh out Hoover's story in G-Man. The biography is "crisply written, prodigiously researched, and frequently astonishing," Margaret Talbot opines in The New Yorker. In a review for the Post, Kai Bird called the book "a monument to the power of biography." Order here

Jonathan Eig's recently released biography of Martin Luther King Jr, "King: A Life,is another comprehensive book relying on information released in recent years, including FBI files and White House phone transcripts. 

Finalists: "Mr. B: George Balanchine's 20th Century" by Jennifer Homans; "His Name Is George Floyd: One Man's Life and the Struggle for Racial Justice" by Robert Samuels and Toluse Olorunnipa

Memoir/Autobiography: 'Stay True' by Hua Hsu

This is the first time a book has been recognized in this new category. In "Stay True," Hsu chronicles an unlikely friendship from his college days, rocked by a random act of violence. The committee called the book an "elegant and poignant coming of age account," that explores friendship and how violence "can suddenly and permanently alter the presumed logic of our personal narratives." Order here

Sometimes memoirs get dismissed, so it's nice to see the genre being recognized for a prestigious award. This year's "The Best Minds: A Story of Friendship, Madness, and the Tragedy of Good Intentions" by Jonathan Rowen is another memoir with rave reviews that chronicles a friendship tested by mental illness and violence.

Finalists: "Easy Beauty" by Chloé Cooper Jones; "The Man Who Could Move Clouds" by Ingrid Rojas Contreras

Poetry: 'Then the War: And Selected Poems, 2007-2020' by Carl Phillips

The collection features some of Phillips's previous work, a lyric prose memoir, and a chapbook. Phillip, a finalist for multiple National Book Awards for poetry, explores American culture as it grapples with rising political tension, life in the post-pandemic world, "and of our place in a changing global community," the committee noted. Phillips' "lyrically rich, insightful poems are full of palpable aching and a human urge to understand," Publisher's Weekly raved. Order here

Check out Phillips' other collection "Double Shadow," a finalist for the 2011 National Book Awards, to see more of why he has come to be regarded as "a vital presence in American poetry," by critics

Finalists: "Blood Snow" by dg nanouk okpik; "Still Life" by Jay Hopler

General Non-Fiction: 'His Name Is George Floyd: One Man's Life and the Struggle for Racial Justice' by Robert Samuels and Toluse Olorunnipa

This biography grew from a six-part special report for the Post by journalists Samuels and Olurunnipa. The pair conducted over 400 interviews to compile the life story and family history of Floyd, whose death led to widespread protests over police brutality in 2020. The authors "deserve every praise" for "His Name is George Floyd," Imbolo Mbue opined in The Atlantic. Their work resulted in an "expertly researched and excellent biography" and "a necessary and enlightening read for all." Order here.

The genre of journalistic non-fiction has boomed over the last couple of decades, taking readers on in-depth dives behind the stories making headlines in the news and giving context to how history is connected. The 10th-anniversary edition of Michelle Alexander's "The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness," released in 2020, is still a timely book that also unfolds the legacy of institutional oppression in America. 

Finalists: "Kingdom of Characters: The Language Revolution That Made China Modern" by Jing Tsu; "Sounds Wild and Broken: Sonic Marvels, Evolution's Creativity, and the Crisis of Sensory Extinction" by David George Haskell; "Under the Skin: The Hidden Toll of Racism on American Lives and on the Health of Our Nation" by Linda Villarosa


'Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse': The best Easter eggs and references
Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse

'Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse': The best Easter eggs and references

The daily gossip: June 2, 2023
Padma Lakshmi
Daily gossip

The daily gossip: June 2, 2023

The week's best photojournalism
A racecar driver.

The week's best photojournalism

The return of Samantha Jones
Kim Cattrall and Sarah Jessica Parker in 'Sex And The City'
Behind the scenes

The return of Samantha Jones

Most Popular

How could AI cause human extinction?
An illustrated image of the evolution of humans, marching toward a city on fire
Today's big question

How could AI cause human extinction?

Why are so many boomers homeless?
Homeless person and tents
Today's big question

Why are so many boomers homeless?

US births did not return to pre-pandemic levels in 2022
Pregnant woman holding ultrasound photo.
bye, bye, baby

US births did not return to pre-pandemic levels in 2022