Joshua Cohen’s “The Netanyahus,” a comic and rigorous campus novel based on the true story of the father of former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu seeking a job in academia, has won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction.
Benzion Netanyahu, who died in 2012, was a medieval historian and ultra-nationalist who taught at several American schools, including the University of Denver and Cornell University. “The Netanyahus” is set around 1959-60 and centers on a Jewish historian at a university loosely based on Cornell who is asked to help decide whether to hire the visiting Israeli scholar. The novel, subtitled “An Account of a Minor and Ultimately Even Negligible Episode in the History of a Very Famous Family,” has been highly praised for its blend of wit and intellectual debate about Zionism and Jewish identity.
“It is an infuriating, frustrating, pretentious piece of work — and also absorbing, delightful, hilarious, breathtaking and the best and most relevant novel I’ve read in what feels like forever,” The New York Times’ Taffy Brodesser-Akner wrote last June.
Many of the winners in the arts Monday were explorations of race and class, in the past and the present. Winners were also announced in several journalism categories.
James Ijames’ “Fat Ham,” an adaptation of Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” set at a Black family’s barbecue in the modern South, received the Pulitzer for drama. The late artist Winfred Rembert won in biography for “Chasing Me to My Grave: An Artist’s Memoir of the Jim Crow South,” as told to Erin I. Kelly. Rembert, who survived years in prison and a near-lynching in rural Georgia in the 1960s, died last year at age 75.
Andrea Elliott’s “Invisible Child: Poverty, Survival & Hope in an American City,” which builds upon her New York Times investigative series about a homeless Black girl from Brooklyn, received a Pulitzer for general nonfiction. Elliott’s book has already won the Gotham Prize for outstanding work about New York City.
Two prizes were awarded Monday in history: Nicole Eustace’s “Covered with Night: A Story of Murder and Indigenous Justice in Early America” and Ada Ferrer’s “Cuba: An American History,” which traces the centuries-long relationship between U.S. and its Southern neighbor.
Diane Seuss won in poetry for “frank: sonnets” and the music award was given to Raven Chacon for his composition for organ and ensemble, “Voiceless Mass.” Chacon is a composer, performer and installation artist from the Navajo Nation. His art work, currently on display at the Whitney Biennial, is inspired by protestors at the Oceti Sakowin near the Standing Rock Indian Reservation in North Dakota.
His 2020 opera, “Sweet Land,” co-composed with Du Yun, was performed outdoors at the Los Angeles State Historic Park earned critical praise for its revisionist telling of American history using different narratives simultaneously. The opera was awarded best opera by the Music Critics Association of North America for 2021.
Chacon also worked with the art collective Postcommodity from 2009 to 2018. He graduated from the University of New Mexico and the California Institute of the Arts and is scheduled to start a residency at the Pew Center for Arts and Heritage in Philadelphia in 2022.
His solo artworks have been displayed at the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Smithsonian Institute’s American Art Museum and National Museum of the American Indian and many more.
As a musician, he creates experimental and electronic music as a solo artist as well as in the duo Endlings with John Dieterich, who also performs with the band Deerhoof.
Drama finalists included “Selling Kabul” by Sylvia Khoury and “Kristina Wong, Sweatshop Overlord” by Kristina Wong.
The drama award, which includes a $15,000 prize, is “for a distinguished play by an American author, preferably original in its source and dealing with American life.” Ijames is a Philadelphia-based playwright and Wilma Theater co-artistic director whose “Fat Ham” production was streamed last summer.