The author joins Booth Tarkington, William Faulkner, and John Updike in this exclusive club.

By Maureen Lee Lenker
May 04, 2020 at 05:45 PM EDT
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Colson Whitehead is now the fourth author in history to win the Pulitzer Prize for fiction twice.

Whitehead joins Booth Tarkington, William Faulkner, and John Updike in this exclusive club. It was announced Monday that he won for his book The Nickel Boys, a heart-rending depiction of abuse in a juvenile reform school. The Dutch House by Ann Patchett and The Topeka School by Ben Lerner were the other finalists in the category.

Basing the novel on the real Dozier School in Florida, Whitehead delves into the realities of living under Jim Crow laws in the American South. Judges for the Pulitzer wrote, "[It is] a spare and devastating exploration of abuse at a reform school in Jim Crow-era Florida that is ultimately a powerful tale of human perseverance, dignity and redemption."

The author previously told EW of the book, "Whether you’re a young black man in Florida in 1962, or a young black man in 1986 in New York City, like I was, you can be caught up in the snare of law enforcement at any time. In a split second, your life can change."

Whitehead previously won for 2016's The Underground Railroad, which was a veritable literary phenomenon. In addition to the Pulitzer, The Underground Railroad won him a National Book Award, was selected for Oprah’s Book Club, and sold more than one million copies. Moonlight’s Barry Jenkins is also set to direct a TV adaptation for Amazon.

The Nickel Boys seems poised to follow in Whitehead's previous novel's footsteps, having been named a finalist for the 2019 National Book Awards. EW also named it number two on our list of top books of 2019.

In response to the news of his victory, Whitehead simply posted a photograph of himself wearing a t-shirt for the band Misfits.

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While Whitehead is breaking new ground as the first author of color to accomplish the feat of winning twice in one lifetime, it should also be noted that no woman has ever won twice. In fact, only two of the previous 11 winners in this category identify as women.

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