Pulitzer Prizes 2023: A Guide to the Winning Books and Finalists

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Pulitzer Prizes 2023: A Guide to the Winning Books and Finalists

Nineteen books were recognized as winners or finalists for the Pulitzer Prize on Monday, in the categories of general history, biography, poetry, general nonfiction and fiction, which — in a surprise — had two winners.


Kingsolver’s story is a retelling of Charles Dickens’s “David Copperfield,” with Appalachia at the center. It follows a young man named Demon as he battles poverty and addiction in his rural community, yet also tracks the development of his artistic consciousness. As our critic Molly Young wrote, “Demon blossoms into an authentic artist and reaps all the rewards associated with that calling in modern-day America: obscurity, instability, compensation best measured in units of peanut.”


This thrilling novel follows the history of a 20th-century fortune, focusing on the marriage between a reclusive financier and his eccentric, brilliant wife. Each of the book’s four sections subverts everything readers think they know about the story, posing questions about the human costs of wealth. Diaz’s debut novel, “In the Distance,” was a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize in 2018.


Fiction finalist: The Immortal King Rao,” by Vauhini Vara

This debut novel takes on climate change, capitalism (a corporation has replaced the United States government) and family bonds, centering on the relationship between Athena and her aging father, who injected her with a genetic code granting her to access to his memories. Our reviewer called the book “beautiful and brilliant, heartbreaking and wise, but also pitiless, which may be controversial to list among its virtues but is in fact essential to its success.”



This compelling book revisits four notable periods in a generations-long conflict between white Alabamians and the federal government. These periods, which include the Jim Crow era and the attempts of Gov. George Wallace and others to nullify the civil rights reforms of the 1950s and ’60s, allow Cowie to explore how the invocation of liberty was often linked to the politics of white supremacy. As Jeff Shesol wrote in his review, “It is essential reading for anyone who hopes to understand the unholy union, more than 200 years strong, between racism and the rabid loathing of government.”

Basic Books

History finalist: Watergate: A New History,” by Garrett M. Graff

Graff offers a thorough account of the scandal that has fascinated America for 50 years. Our reviewer Douglas Brinkley praised this “thrilling” history, noting that “with granular detail, Graff writes about the white-collar criminals, hatchet men and rogues who populated the outer circles of Nixon’s covert operations.”

Avid Reader Press/Simon & Schuster

History finalist: “Seeing Red: Indigenous Land, American Expansion, and the Political Economy of Plunder in North America,” by Michael John Witgen

Witgen, a historian at Columbia University, tells the story of the Anishinaabeg, who resisted colonial advances on their land (in present-day Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin) and leveraged cultural and political savvy to help protect their members.

Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture/University of North Carolina Press


The first major study of Hoover in decades complicates his legacy, urging readers to see the former longtime F.B.I. director in greater focus. “This is a humanizing biography,” our critic Jennifer Szalai wrote, “an acknowledgment of the complexities that made Hoover who he was, while also charting the turbulent currents that eventually swept him aside.”


Biography finalist: His Name is George Floyd,” by Robert Samuels and Toluse Olorunnipa

Two Washington Post journalists offer a thoughtful and nuanced study of Floyd’s life and of his killing by the police in 2020. As our reviewer E. Peniel Joseph wrote, “Throughout, we get the portrait of a flawed man trying to come to terms with diminished dreams, one whose muscular physical exterior hid a gentle soul who battled pain, anxiety, claustrophobia and depression.” (This title won a Pulitzer Prize this year for nonfiction.)


Biography finalist: Mr. B: George Balanchine’s 20th Century,” by Jennifer Homans

This book is a sensitive portrait of George Balanchine, the Russian-born choreographer whose profound influence on ballet is still felt today. Our critic Dwight Garner said the book was “a serious act of cultural retrieval, by a writer who knows when to expand and when to collapse, who makes unexpected connections, and who knows when her subject pinches, borrows or steals.”

Random House


“Stay True” is about an intense college friendship between Hsu, the son of Taiwanese immigrants, and Ken, a Japanese American whose family had been in the United States for generations. In her review, our critic Jennifer Szalai called it a “quietly wrenching” memoir, adding, “To say that this book is about grief or coming-of-age doesn’t quite do it justice.”


Memoir finalist: “The Man Who Could Move Clouds,” by Ingrid Rojas Contreras

In what Miguel Salazar, who reviewed the book for The Times, called a “spellbinding and genre-defying ancestral history” that reads like something from a Gabriel García Márquez novel, Rojas Contreras draws on oral histories to tell her family’s story. The tale involves a grandfather who was a revered shaman, a fortune telling aunt, abuse and alcoholism and violent encounters with Colombia paramilitary forces.


Memoir finalist: “Easy Beauty,” by Chloé Cooper Jones

Born with sacral agenesis, a physical condition that makes her body different, Jones is excluded from “easy beauty,” Kate Tuttle wrote in The New York Times. “In rejecting the dismissive gaze of others, Jones stands in the light of her own extremely able self.”

Avid Reader Press/Simon & Schuster


The collection includes a selection of Phillip’s work from previous years, along with a lyric prose memoir, “Among the Trees,” and a chapbook, “Star Map with Action Figures.”

From his poem, “In a Field, at Sunset”:

“When he asked if I still loved him, I didn’t / answer; / but of course, I loved him. / He’d become, by then, like the rhyme between lost / and most.”

Farrar, Straus & Giroux

Poetry finalist: “Still Life,” by Jay Hopler

After receiving a terminal cancer diagnosis, Hopler put together this heartbreaking and darkly funny collection. Hopler died in June, 2022.


Poetry finalist: “Blood Snow,” by dg nanouk okpik

Okpik, an Alaskan Native poet, writes about a homeland being erased by rising temperatures.

Wave Books


Samuels and Olorunnipa, journalists for The Washington Post, conducted hundreds of interviews to piece together the life and family history of George Perry Floyd Jr., who was killed by police in Minneapolis in 2020, setting off protests and a national reckoning over structural racism and police violence. In their biography, they produce a nuanced portrait of a shy, good-natured and troubled man who dreamed of becoming an athlete but had to contend with “the cruel reality of growing up Black and poor.”


General nonfiction finalist: “Sounds Wild and Broken: Sonic Marvels, Evolution’s Creativity, and the Crisis of Sensory Extinction,” by David George Haskell

Haskell explores the evolution of animal communication and bird song, and delves into human language and music, and how civilization is now threatening to destroy rich sonic landscapes, with noise pollution in oceans and destruction of animal ecosystems.


General nonfiction finalist: “Kingdom of Characters: The Language Revolution That Made China Modern,” by Jing Tsu


Tsu, a cultural historian and literary scholar of modern China, examines how language shaped China’s evolution into a global superpower. The book follows linguistic pioneers who helped modernize the Chinese script and language, including a Chinese Muslim poet, a computer engineer and an exiled political reformer.

General nonfiction finalist: “Under the Skin: The Hidden Toll of Racism on American Lives and on the Health of Our Nation,” by Linda Villarosa

In “Under the Skin,” Villarosa, a journalism professor at the City University of New York and a contributing writer for The New York Times magazine, investigates racial bias and disparities in America’s health care, and looks at the ways in which the medical system’s inferior treatment of Black patients stems from structural and environmental racism.


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