The winners of the 2017 Pulitzer Prize were announced today — on the 170th birthday of Joseph Pulitzer — and though there were some surprises, the majority of the honors were bestowed on some of the year’s most talked about pieces of writing. For example, Colson Whitehead won for his ground-breaking work of fiction, The Underground Railroad. And C.J. Chivers of the New York Times snagged a Pulitzer for his heart-breaking portrayal of a soldier grappling with his life stateside in “The Fighter.”
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I was skipping around Google the other day and was reminded of a piece by Colson Whitehead called “How To Write.” You may have read it when it came out in 2012 and laughed and, if you did, I can assure you that if you reread it now you will laugh again. It starts with the observation that the “art of writing can be reduced to a few simple rules” and kicks off with this one:
It is like putting your broken unicorn out there, isn’t it? Anyway, Whitehead’s new novel The Underground Railroad is coming out Sept. 13, and I’ve been counting down to it.
“It was 1991. We’d just been diagnosed as Generation X, and certainly we had all the symptons, our designs and life plans as scrawny and undeveloped as our bodies. Sure, we had dreams. Dan had escaped college with a degree in visual arts, was a cartoonist en route to becoming an animator. Darren was an anthro major who’d turned to film, fancying himself a Lynchian auteur in those early days of the indie art-house wave. I considered myself a writer but hadn’t got much further than wearing black and smoking cigarettes. I wrote two five-page short stories, two five-page epics, to audition for my college’s creative-writing workshops and was turned down both times. I was crushed, but in retrospect it was perfect training for becoming a writer. You can keep ’write what you know’—for a true apprenticeship, internalize the world’s indifference and accept rejection and failure into your very soul.”
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