"The Night Watchman," Louise Erdrich's novel about the battle to stop the displacement and elimination of several Native American tribes in the 1950s, is the 2021 winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.
The fiction award was one of 22 prizes announced Friday: 15 for journalism and seven for arts and letters, including fiction, general nonfiction, drama, history, biography, poetry and music, announced by the Pulitzer Board Friday.
Erdrich's personal book received praise from Pulitzer judges as "a majestic, polyphonic novel" that is "rendered with dexterity and imagination." The author based her novel on the life of her grandfather, who worked as a factory night watchman and took the fight against Native dispossession from rural North Dakota to Congress.
A USA TODAY review praised Erdrich's writing, saying it "shimmers and dances like the northern lights the book's cover evokes."
The review continues: "Erdrich, who is part Chippewa, is a gifted, award-winning storyteller whose writing introduces readers to Native American characters they will be sad to leave at book’s end. She subtly tells the story of the ruinous way this country treated its native people. ... In powerfully spare and elegant prose, Erdrich depicts deeply relatable characters who may be poor but are richly connected to family, community and the Earth."
As in 2020, the Pulitzers, originally scheduled to be awarded in April, were announced via video stream rather than at a traditional press conference at New York's Columbia University due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The board also considered virtual arts performances because of the inability to stage events in front of audiences.
Other arts prize winners and their citations include:
Drama: "The Hot Wing King"
Katori Hall's "funny, deeply felt consideration of Black masculinity and how it is perceived, filtered through the experiences of a loving gay couple and their extended family as they prepare for a culinary competition."
History: "Franchise: The Golden Arches in Black America”
Marcia Chatelain's "nuanced account of the complicated role the fast-food industry plays in African-American communities, a portrait of race and capitalism that masterfully illustrates how the fight for civil rights has been intertwined with the fate of Black businesses."
Biography: “The Dead Are Arising: The Life of Malcolm X”
Les and Tamara Payne's "powerful and revelatory account of the civil rights activist, built from dozens of interviews, offering insight into his character, beliefs and the forces that shaped him."
Poetry: “Postcolonial Love Poem”
Natalie Diaz's "collection of tender, heart-wrenching and defiant poems that explore what it means to love and be loved in an America beset by conflict."
General Nonfiction: “Wilmington's Lie: The Murderous Coup of 1898 and the Rise of White Supremacy”
David Zucchino's "gripping account of the overthrow of the elected government of a Black-majority North Carolina city after Reconstruction that untangles a complicated set of power dynamics cutting across race, class and gender."
Tania León's "A musical journey full of surprise, with powerful brass and rhythmic motifs that incorporate Black music traditions from the US and the Caribbean into a Western orchestral fabric."
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: 'The Night Watchmen' by Louise Erdrich wins Pulitzer Prize for fiction