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Cheers for NYS Author Colson Whitehead on winning his second Pulitzer Prize

Author and three-time guest of the NYS Writers Institute makes history, becoming the first writer to win Pulitzers for back-to-back novels

Colson Whitehead was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for his novel The Nickel Boys, in an announcement made Monday by Dana Canedy, Administrator of The Pulitzer Prizes, who posted a video from her living room due to the Covid-19 restrictions, a reflection of what she described as "deeply trying times."

Whitehead was scheduled to be the keynote speaker at the 2020 Annual McKinney Awards event at RPI on April 13, another event altered because of the coronavirus. That event has been rescheduled for April 7, 2021. (More details to come: Join our NYS Writers Institute email list to keep up-to-date on news and events.)

Colson Whitehead made history with yesterday's announcement: He is one of only four authors -- joining Booth Tarkington, William Faulkner and John Updike -- to win the Pulitzer Prize for fiction twice. And he is the first author win a Pulitzer for consecutive novels: he won in 2017 for The Underground Railroad.

The Nickel Boys chronicles the real-life tales of young black boys who were subject to extreme abuse while attending a reform school, inspired by the real-life horror story of the Dozier School for Boys in the Florida panhandle.

In her review, NPR's Maureen Corrigan wrote of The Nickel Boys: "A masterpiece squared, rooted in history and American mythology and, yet, painfully topical in its visions of justice and mercy erratically denied... a great American novel." Publishers Weekly called it "a stunning novel of impeccable language and startling insight" and former President Barack Obama praised it as "a necessary read."

Whitehead has visited us at the University at Albany on three previous occasions, in 2002, 2011 and most recently in 2018 when he was named New York State Author in a ceremony that kicked off the NYS Writers Institute's inaugural Albany Book Festival at the University at Albany.

From left, UAlbany President Havidán Rodríguez; NYS Writers Institute Founder and Executive Director William Kennedy; New York State Author Colson Whitehead; New York State Poet Alicia Ostriker; Carl McCall, chairman of the Board of Trustees of The State University of New York; NYS Writers Institute Director Paul Grondahl, at the NYS Author and NYS Poet installation ceremony held at the UAlbany Campus Center on Friday, September 28, 2018. (Photo by Patrick Dodson)

The NYS Author and NYS Poet awards are presented every two years by the NYS Writers Institute under a state law signed by Gov. Mario Cuomo in 1986. In response to the coronavirus pandemic, the two-year tenure for both the NYS Author and NYS Poet have been extended to a third year. It is only the second time in its history the Writers Institute have extended these honors an additional year, the first being in 2003 for State Author Kurt Vonnegut and State Poet John Ashberry.

Congratulations, Colson Whitehead, MacArthur 'genius' grant and Guggenheim Fellowship winner, reigning NYS Author, three-time guest of the NYS Writers Institute, and upcoming speaker at the 2021 RPI McKinney Awards ceremony across the river in Troy. We all look forward to applauding you next spring.

More images from the 2018 State Author/State Poet Ceremony at the University at Albany

(Photos by Patrick Dodson / UAlbany)

Listen to an excerpt of The Nickel Boys read by JD Jackson

An interview with NPR Weekend Edition host Scott Simon

An interview with Colson Whitehead broadcast on PBS NewsHour

Colson Whitehead at the NYS Writers Institute at UAlbany in 2002

Colson Whitehead at the NYS Writers Institute at UAlbany in 2011

More on Colson Whitehead:

'I carry it within me.' novelist Colson Whitehead reminds us how America's racist history lives on by Mitchell S. Jackson, cover story published in Time magazine June 27, 2019

Don’t You Be My Neighbor by Colson Whitehead in New York magazine April 23, 2004


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