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Jennifer Egan plays with time, wins Pulitzer

Jennifer Egan won the Pulitzer Prize for her novel about the passage of time set in the digital upending of the music industry.

By Jake Coyle and Mark KennedyAssociated Press / April 19, 2011

Jennifer Egan, shown at her home in Brooklyn, won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction for her novel 'A Visit from the Goon Squad,' on Monday.

Henny Ray Abrams/AP

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Jennifer Egan's inventive novel about the passage of time, "A Visit from the Goon Squad," won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction Monday, honored for its "big-hearted curiosity about cultural change at warp speed."

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Egan, 48, has been highly praised for her searching and unconventional narratives about modern angst and identity. Her other novels include "The Invisible Circus," ''Look at Me" and "The Keep."

Critics were especially taken with "A Visit From the Goon Squad," set in the digital upending of the music industry. Earlier this year, she won the National Book Critics Circle prize for the book, which experiments with format, notably a long section structured like a PowerPoint presentation.

"The book is so much about how change is unexpected and always kind of shocking," she said by phone. Egansaid she was inspired by Marcel Proust's sprawling novel "Remembrance of Things Past," which explored the passage of time.

"His book of time is all about how the work of time is unpredictable and in some sense unfathomable," she said. "So there's no question that winning a prize like this feel unpredictable and unfathomable."

The play "Clybourne Park" by Bruce Norris, which examines race relations and the effects of modern gentrification, won the drama prize. The work imagines what might have happened to the family that moved out of the house in the fictitious Chicago neighborhood of Clybourne Park, which is where Lorraine Hansberry's Younger clan is headed by the end of her 1959 play "A Raisin in the Sun."

"I'm deeply honored and totally flabbergasted to receive this recognition," said Norris, who was staying on an island off the coast of Maine when he learned of the win. He thanked the Steppenwolf Theatre Company in Chicago for 10 years of support.

The Pulitzer for history was awarded to "The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery" by Eric Foner, a Columbia University professor who has won multiple honors for a career focused on the Lincoln era and Reconstruction. Foner, 68, called the latest prize a capstone for his career.

"The Pulitzer has a kind of broader importance and stature suggesting that your book is appreciated by a wider audience, a non-scholarly audience," Foner said in a telephone interview from London, where he is teaching this semester.

He said it can be intimidating approaching a book on Lincoln, who has been written about so much before. But he said many Lincoln books either try to put the Civil War president on a pedestal or tear him down, and he was trying to get a balanced view on a specific topic seen through the lens of that period in history.

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