Thursday, April 05, 2007

What kind of academic books win the Pulitzer Prize?

The results of the meeting sponsored by the Government Department are well worth considering here. We looked at the past decade and a half of Pulitzer results for nonfiction, and found some interesting consistencies. When focusing exclusively on university presses, the prize distribution followed a pattern. In future blog posts I'll attempt to analyze this by contacting the authors and getting their thoughts on what goes into the creation of a such a book. I'll also consider the words of Martin J. Sherwin of Tufts, whose book American Prometheus about Oppenheimer won the 2006 prize with Knopf as publisher. Sherwin does not believe that one can or should write to win a prize, but he also has useful thoughts about why a given book might succeed. Since 1986, 16 books from university presses have won Pulitzers (this list does not include books from elite trade presses). The breakdown is as follows (alphabetical order):

Carnegie-Mellon University Press: 1
Harvard University Press: 2
Louisiana State University Press: 2
Oxford University Press: 7
Princeton University Press: 1
Wesleyan University Press: 2 (1 with University Press of New England)

And here are the titles, grouped by year:

1986, Poetry, The Flying Change by Henry Taylor (Louisiana State University Press)

1987, Poetry, Thomas and Beulah by Rita Dove (Carnegie-Mellon University Press)

1989, History, Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era by James M. McPherson (Oxford University Press)

1990, Biography or autobiography, Machiavelli in Hell by Sebastian de Grazia (Princeton University Press)

1991, General Nonfiction, The Ants by Bert Holldobler and Edward O. Wilson (Belknap/Harvard University Press)

1992, History, The Fate of Liberty: Abraham Lincoln and Civil Liberties by Mark E. Neely, Jr. (Oxford University Press) ; Poetry, Selected Poems by James Tate (Wesleyan University Press)

1994, Poetry, Neon Vernacular: New and Selected Poems by Yusef Komunyakaa (Wesleyan University Press/University Press of New England)

1995, Biography or autobiography, Harriet Beecher Stowe: A Life by Joan D. Hedrick (Oxford University Press)

1997, Poetry, Alive Together: New and Selected Poems by Lisel Mueller (Louisiana State University Press)

1999, History, Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898 by Edwin G. Burrows and Mike Wallace (Oxford University Press)

2000, History, Freedom From Fear: The American People in Depression and War, 1929-1945 by David M. Kennedy (Oxford University Press)

2004, History, A Nation Under Our Feet: Black Political Struggles in the Rural South from Slavery to the Great Migration by Steven Hahn (The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press)

2005, History, Washington’s Crossing by David Hackett Fischer (Oxford University Press)

2006, History, Polio: An American Story by David M. Oshinsky (Oxford University Press); Poetry, Late Wife by Claudia Emerson (Louisiana State University Press)

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