Stories of race and gender prevailed at this year’s Pulitzer Prizes, with “Ruined,” Lynn Nottage’s harrowing tale of survival set against the backdrop of an African civil war, winning for drama Monday and books about slavery, civil rights and Andrew Jackson also receiving awards.
In a victory for the short story, Elizabeth Strout’s “Olive Kitteridge,” a collection set in Maine and linked by the forthright title character, a math teacher and general scold with an understanding heart. It was the first book of stories to win since 2000 (Jhumpa Lahiri’s “Interpreter of Maladies”).
“I’m thrilled that stories are being recognized, whether they’re linked or not,” said Strout, who added that she is close to finishing a novel, describing it as “one big, long messy story.”that mostly concerns “Ruined,” particularly in its depiction of the resourceful Mama Nadi and the young women who work for her.
“I wanted to tell the story of these women and the war in the Congo and I couldn’t find anything about them in the newspapers or in the library, so I felt I had to get on a plane and go to Africa and find the story myself,” Nottage said in a telephone interview. “I felt there was a complete absence in the media of their narrative. It’s very different now, but when I went in 2004 that was definitely the case.”
She said “Ruined” was a difficult play to write because of the nature of the material, “because the characters go through (things) so raw and brutal, it was not easy to spend time with them on a day-to-day basis.”
“I think of Mama Nadi as being the ultimate businesswoman. She’s a survivor,” the 44-year-old playwright said. “She is a negotiator. She uses her wit and her wiles to survive a very difficult conflict.”
The drama currently is on view at off-Broadway’s Manhattan Theatre Club and is a co-production with Chicago’s Goodman Theatre where the play had its world premiere late last year.