Columbia University announced this year’s Pulitzer Prize winners yesterday. Although most of the awards are for journalism, both reporting and photography, the school also awards prizes for fiction and non-fiction books.
This year’s Pulitzer for fiction goes to Adam Johnson for his novel The Orphan Master’s Son, the tale of one man’s life in brutal and repressive North Korea.
Johnson, 45, a creative writing professor at Stanford University, said he became obsessed with life in North Korea after reading about the country’s Soviet gulag-style prison camps in 2004. He was shocked that despite being well-educated, he had no idea such brutal places still existed. He took years to research the country and its iron-fisted dictatorship before he felt comfortable weaving the story of his main character, Pak Jun Do.
But even with extensive research, Johnson still had to invent much of his understanding of the North Korean people’s inner thoughts and motivations.
“I wanted to give a picture of what it was like to be an ordinary person in North Korea,” he told the Associated Press. “It’s illegal there for citizens to interact with foreigners, so the only way I could really get to know these people was through my imagination.”
Columbia handed out 21 Pulitzers in all. All prizes, except the one for public service, come with a $10,000 award.
The Denver Post won the breaking news award for its coverage of the movie theater massacre in Aurora, Colo. The New York Times won four awards, including one for investigative journalism for its coverage of Walmart Stores Inc. bribing Mexican officials in order to open stores in the country.
The most surprising award went to nonprofit start-up InsideClimate News, an online source for reporting on energy and the environment. The New York-based site beat out many of larger and much better-known media outlets with its investigation into a million-gallon spill of Canadian tar sands oil into the Kalamazoo River in Michigan in 2010.