The Underground Railroad Wins Pulitzer Prize

Colson Whitehead’s novel The Underground Railroad has won the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.

The citation says Whitehead’s book was chosen “For a smart melding of realism and allegory that combines the violence of slavery and the drama of escape in a myth that speaks to contemporary America.”

As the publisher describes the story:

In Whitehead’s ingenious conception, the Underground Railroad is no mere metaphor—engineers and conductors operate a secret network of tracks and tunnels beneath the Southern soil. Cora and Caesar’s first stop is South Carolina, in a city that initially seems like a haven. But the city’s placid surface masks an insidious scheme designed for its black denizens. And even worse: Ridgeway, the relentless slave catcher, is close on their heels. Forced to flee again, Cora embarks on a harrowing flight, state by state, seeking true freedom.

The Pulitzer Prize, worth $15,000, goes to “distinguished fiction published in book form during the year by an American author, preferably dealing with American life.”

The winner was determined by a jury composed of Eric Banks (Chair), Director, New York Institute for the Humanities, New York University; Lan Samantha Chang, Director and May Brodbeck Professor of Liberal Arts and Sciences, Iowa Writers’ Workshop, University of Iowa; Mary Ann Gwinn, Book Editor, Seattle Times.

Overcoming a historic mainstream bias, in the past two decades speculative fiction has contended for the Pulitzer several times. In 2016 Kelly Link’s Get in Trouble: Stories was one of two finalists, while past winners have included The Road, by Cormac McCarthy (2007) and The Amazing Adventures of Cavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon (2001).