Pulitzer Prize Winners for Fiction

shelved under Fiction and Award Winners

The Pulitzer Prize for Fiction has been awarded since 1948 for distinguished fiction by an American author, preferably dealing with American life. (From 1947 back to 1918 it was a different award called The Pulitzer Prize for the Novel).

Oh, and the committee didn't award a Prize in 1971, 1974, or 1977 — with gas lines and Nixon, that's 3 strikes against the 70s. ;)


Olive Kitteridge (2009)

by Elizabeth Strout

Stacy from South Bend, IN says:

Having never read any of Strout's previous work, I chose this based on an NPR recommendation. I didn't expect the short story format, but I think it works. The title character is not always the center of the stories; she threads them together with her presence in some form or fashion. Focusing on a life in small town, the stories interweave to create characters and plot lines that are intriguing and compelling. These are your neighbors, these are your friends, this is what happens when you're not with them.

This book also appears on What New Yorkers Read on the Subway


The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (2008)

by Junot Di­az

David Quigg says:

Here's how good this novel is. I finished the English version last week and immediately started in on the Spanish version. At first, this book seems only to be an enthralling portrait of a nerdy immigrant kid. But, as Díaz told a Slate interviewer, his novel "is all about the dangers of dictatorship." Díaz recreates the quotidian terrors of Dominican life during the Trujillo regime.


The Road (2007)

by Cormac McCarthy

Laura H. from Brooklyn, NY says:

Wow, this one was a doozie. It had been a while since I teared up in a book, but this did it to me. "The Road" takes place after some unknown apocalypse and tells the story of a father and son simply trying to survive. It’s not clear what happened or for how long they have been in this world of desolation, but that not the most important aspect of the story. The real story is one of survival and the length of time that love and hope will keep you alive. It makes the reader question their values while at the same time asking them to decide who and what holds the most importance in their lives. McCarthy’s style of writing is short, often deleting un/necessary apostrophes, but being involved in the story makes the difficult syntax disappear. I started out this book thinking that it would simply be a long tale of desperation and I’m glad that changed.


March (2006)

by Geraldine Brooks

Meghan from York, UK says:

A thoughtful, deep look into what happens during wartime and the changes cruelty and distance can inflict on a man. A very worthwhile read that will reveal an aspect of life most of us don't experience these days.


Gilead (2005)

by Marilynne Robinson

A. Hargett from Seattle, WA says:

A powerful story of generational ties. Very articulate and a very "American" tale of lineage through patriarchal lines.


The Known World (2004)

by Edward P. Jones

Barrett Hansen from Austin, Texas says:

Heart-breaking and eye-opening tale of slavery in the American south. The book is a beautifully written, compelling tale of slavery under owners, white, black, and Cherokee. This book challenges many of the pablum beliefs main- stream popular concepts about American slavery. Because there are some pretty brutal events (no real surprise, I guess) be forewarned that reading this book will have a big impact.


Middlesex (2003)

by Jeffrey Eugenides

Gotham Gal from New York, NY says:

One of my all-time favorite books (that happened to win the Pulitzer Prize). The saga of a modern-day Greek family, and how genes show up in weird places and how every family has its issues.

This book also appears on Some Favorite Books of Gotham Gal


Empire Falls (2002)

by Richard Russo

Mom3girls says:

Really engaging; I didn't want it to end and was afraid to pick up another book after, because I felt anything else would be a letdown.


The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay (2001)

by Michael Chabon

Gotham Gal from New York, NY says:

Chabon's best book — it won a Pulitzer Prize. The tale of 2 cousins who meet after WWII and enter into the world of comic book writing. The comic industry of the 1930s was predominantly Jewish. There was an exhibit at the Jewish Museum a few years back showing work from that time period. I had no idea that the majority of comic book heroes that have become lore were a Jewish industry.


Interpreter of Maladies (2000)

by Jhumpa Lahiri

Tina Nole says:

I think this title is soooo fantastic and just says it all. Lahiri here does quite a bit of interpreting maladies on this collection of short stories.


The Hours (1999)

by Michael Cunningham

Meghan from York, UK says:

This is a brilliant literary play on Virginia Woolf's "Mrs. Dalloway". Not only does it build on the previous work but it gets across essential, beautiful messages about the transitory nature of life and what we're all about.


Independence Day (1996)

by Richard Ford

Michele Hush from New York, NY says:

About two years ago, I saw Richard Ford discuss this book during an interview. His said his wife had suggested that he write about someone who is happy for a change. The result is sportswriter-turned real estate salesman Frank Bascombe, the character first introduced in Ford's The Sportswriter and brought back in the more recent Lay of the Land. Bascombe struggles to be happy in the face of considerable odds: grief over his lost son, remorse over the lost love of his ex-wife and a friend's loss to murder, and an assortment of lost opportunities. Along the way he works hard to tame the unruly demands of real estate clients who can't afford what they want, and don't want what they can pay for. Ford says he did not plan to do a series about Frank Bascombe; it's just that every ten years or so, he hears Bascombe's voice when he sits down to write. Ford once told an interviewer on WNYC radio that "literature's fundamental purpose is to insist life is worth living." This book is a prime example of that philosophy.


The Shipping News (1994)

by E. Annie Proulx

Debbie Huntsman says:

If I had to name my favorite author it would be a toss up between James Agee and Annie Proulx. Both have an extraordinary talent for weaving simple language into a rich, complex and mythic place. When I read The Shipping News, I was transported to rural Newfoundland to observe Quoyle, Petal, Agnis and the small town cast of characters in yarns of sorrow, love and shame. Like rural life, the pace in Shipping News is slow enough to pick up lint, but the reach of generations past extend before Quoyle to lead him to a new beginning.

This book also appears on Books With The Sea in Sight


Rabbit at Rest (1991)

by John Updike

Cary Branscum says:

It is a fitting culmination to the "Rabbit" series. Angstrom continues to scrap with the angels and demons in his life, Updike puts the reader inside the character, while also continuing the kaleidoscope narrative of Rabbit's world. Very readable, and the concluding scene from Rabbit's point of view is imprinted in my memory. I read Rabbit's life as a requiem for American consumerism. You ask for it, you got it, Toyota.

This book also appears on John Updike's "Rabbit" Series


Breathing Lessons (1989)

by Anne Tyler

Meredith May Johnson from West Jordan, UT says:

This is a relationship book. I had to read it for a class, but ended up liking it. It makes you think about why people stay together, and you ask yourself why some relationships work, and question what makes a good relationship... it shows that what works when we're young may be different from when we get older, and that's okay.


Beloved (1988)

by Toni Morrison

Sue Lange says:

Morrison's book usually would be classified as a ghost story. The beautifully descriptive prose alone, though, sets this above the rest. Morrison makes the reader sympathize with the most hated creature in the world: the mother who murders her own child. What balls. But further, she is not content with telling a story of a victim coming back to haunt the accused. She's not interested in shocking us, or merely coming up with something worse than we've seen before, although she could easily have left it at that. Morrison's story is much more. It's a history lesson, an illustration of society gone wrong and making bad choices. The subject matter, the cruelties of slavery, has been done before. But where Uncle Tom's Cabin is sanctimonious and obvious, Beloved is realistic and subtle. The brutality is not witnessed so much as felt. Morrison elegantly justifies murder of a child. She not only depicts the circumstances, the consequences, the aftermath, the price to pay, she also puts the reader in the shoes of the murderer. Not to witness the events, but to feel them. We feel the anguish, the pain, the humiliation, the knowledge of what is to come. We viscerally understand and react in a way that's far beyond wringing our hands over Simon Legree. We go to bed sick at heart, depressed, despondent as if things haven't changed after all. It's a slipstream sort of manipulation that happens without us seeing it creep up on us.


Lonesome Dove (1986)

by Larry McMurtry

Cary Branscum says:

Do you want to live in the Old West? This book is the next best thing, and maybe the best thing because you can experience without heat, rattlesnakes, danger, and renegades. This a tale about unforgettable lawmen, and the lowlife criminals they bring to justice. Along the way you'll experience it all, in one of McMurtry's best loved books. Seriously, read the first ten pages, you'll be hooked, and shoppin' for a cowboy hat.


The Color Purple (1983)

by Alice Walker

Marianne Snygg from Colorado Springs, CO says:

Really a fantastic book! One of the best ever. A timeless story of an abused woman coming to terms with her life, and learning to stand up for herself. Also, one of the best descriptions of God I have ever heard.


Rabbit Is Rich (1982)

by John Updike

Cary Branscum says:

In his "Rabbit" series, John Updike captured the spirit of the upper middle class from World War II through the decline of the modern age. Rabbit Angstrom's climb to wealth via his own auto dealership explores the darker human relational side of the American Dream. Rabbit's struggles with spouse, son, in-laws, and other social climbers is the experience of many who grew to maturity in that age. You'll feel like you're there, so enjoy the ride. You asked for it... you got it... Toyota. RIP John Updike. You wrote life.

This book also appears on John Updike's "Rabbit" Series


A Confederacy of Dunces (1981)

by John Kennedy Toole

Christian McLaughlin says:

Recommended to me years ago by then-idol John Waters, this genius killed himself before his mother discovered the masterpiece A CONFEDERACY OF DUNCES and had it published. Of course it went on to win a Pulitzer, but it was too late... Toole was dead and now the millions of us in his thrall have to make due by reading and re-reading his hilarious epic satire about an obese, cantankerous self-proclaimed genius named Ignatius J. Reilly who clashes with a modern world (it's set in '60s New Orleans but is really timeless) populated by an unforgettable collection of freaks, losers and wackos. It's easy to imagine Waters' superstars in key roles — how about Edith Massey as Ignatius's clueless mother and Mink Stole as evil barkeep Lana Lee? Toole's short novel THE NEON BIBLE is very different, but flawlessly crafted in the Truman Capote/Flannery O'Connor mold.


The Executioner's Song (1980)

by Norman Mailer

Heidi Bertman from Portland, Oregon says:

I read this when a professor recommended this as a good comparison to Coriolanus for a character study. It's much, much more than that; aside from any literary discussion the sheer scale is impressive. The way he weaves the environment around the main topic/character is elegant and effective. It's a big book but worth the effort, especially if you are interested in contemporary American culture and media.


The Stories of John Cheever (1979)

by John Cheever

Tad Friend says:

Okay, it's not a novel — but Cheever's writing always takes my breath away. Just when you think you're on fairly solid ground — namely, Westchester County — along comes a wondrous radio or an elephant marching over the hills. A magical realist who's part Marquez and part Walter Mitty.

This book also appears on The Best Novels About WASPs


Humboldt's Gift (1976)

by Jeffrey Eugenides, Saul Bellow

Tamara says:

Ah, Humboldt's Gift. A GREAT book! It is both insightful and hilarious, pitch-perfect in its tone with rich (as in well-drawn) characters. Since reading this, I can't get enough of Bellow. I believe he was a genius.


The Killer Angels (1975)

by Michael Shaara

Iris Blasi from New York, NY says:

"Killer Angels" was required reading my sophomore year of college and I will forever thank Professor Gleason for having it on the syllabus. Not well-acquainted with military histories back then, I was shocked by how much the on-the-ground, in-the-moment story impacted me. Getting inside the decision-makers' heads made me feel like I was grasping an otherwise obscured perspective on the psychology of war. Incredible reading.


The Keepers of the House (1965)

by Shirley Ann Grau

Linda Austin says:

Still have my yellowed 75 cent copy from high school days and will not give it up. Shirley Ann Grau paints a beautiful, descriptive narrative in the heat of the deep Old South, moving slowly and deliciously through the lives of several generations of the white Howlands, encompassing the black secrets of the family, ending in a finale of revenge that left me breathless and thoughtful.


The Reivers (1963)

by William Faulkner

Quinn Walker says:

This is one of my favorite Faulkner books. Little read, but much revered by those who have, The Reviers is part of the saga encompassing Faulkner's favorite family, the McCaslins. A story within a story — told to a boy by his grandfather — The Reviers is the tale of Lucius and Boon Hogganbeck's trip to Memphis in Lucius's grandfather's brand new automobile. Boon, the family's tag-along servant, invites Lucius (not yet eleven) on a joyride while the rest of the family is gone, and the two fight, struggle, and bet their way through the South. The Reviers is probably one of the funniest of Faulkner's books, filled with madcap humor that is only made better by the twists and turns of all of his writing.


To Kill a Mockingbird (1961)

by Harper Lee

Jane Wylen says:

This is a wonderful story of quiet bravery in the face of bitter hatred. A subplot about the hero's young daughter and a friend provides a wonderful counterpoint to the main story.


A Death in the Family (1958)

by James Agee

Karen Randolph from El Sobrante, CA says:

Well written, suspenseful, characters are well drawn and "the death" itself becomes a character.


Andersonville (1956)

by MacKinlay Kantor

Jamie White from Tacoma, WA says:

If you like your history raw and powerful — filled with both the best and worst of humanity — this is a magnificent book. The history is accurate and the story hypnotic. The setting is the infamous prison camp at Andersonville governed by the sadistic commander Wirtz. The individual stories of each man, how they came to be there, and the outcome will hold you enthralled throughout the book.


A Fable (1955)

by William Faulkner

Quinn Walker says:

While Faulkner considered A Fable to be his greatest work, spending over a decade on it, critics were mixed in the reviews and it has been remembered as a lesser novel. This although it won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and National Book Award in 1955. However, it is worth reading because of the abrupt changes from his norm: set in France, during World War I, it follows a corporal and his men who challenge the ideas inherent in war. The allegory of the Christ story is obvious but no less poignant because Faulkner makes it his own and does so delicately. It may seem tough reading at times, but the stories come together in a daring climax.


The Caine Mutiny (1952)

by Herman Wouk

G.T. Gibson says:

Probably one of the best character-driven novels in print. It's a book you will never forget. The war at sea brings out the underlying fears of men.


Tales of the South Pacific (1948)

by James A. Michener

Peter from Brooklyn, NY says:

This is one of Michener's earliest books (his earliest maybe?) and it's not like his others. A collection of loosely-related short stories, it depicts the romantic vision of the South Pacific he picked up during his time there during World War II. While it's one of his best, I personally highly recommend The Drifters — it's a great story that perfectly captures the era in which it's set.


All the King's Men (1947)

by Robert Penn Warren

The Panelists of Flaming Politics says:

To even begin to understand this great big mess that is American politics, you should start with the best political novel ever written, an insight into populism, power and the inevitable corruption that follows.


The Grapes of Wrath (1940)

by John Steinbeck

Horo from Jacksonville, FL says:

The Joad family is made up of hardscrabble people who have known no life other than tenant farming in Oklahoma. When the Great Depression strikes, and much of the central United States is turned into a "Dust Bowl" incapable of sustaining crops, the Joads set out for California and a better life. The story captures, inimitably, the life and times of the poorest of the poor, as they struggle to reach a place they've only heard about, for a future they cannot imagine. They see incredible kindness among their fellow travelers, and unbelievable cruelty among the authorities and landowners along the way. The unfairness towards labor makes a political statement, as does the description of poverty among the lush valleys of California. But more than anything, the book haunts the reader by leaving images of a devastated country, the poor, simple, honest people who struggle to survive, and their deep family relationship that sustains them when there is literally nothing else.