The irony of excitement surrounding an award rewarding the arts and journalism should not be lost on 2017. For artists and journalist, this year, all four months of it, has felt a bit like an assault on our values, so it should swell most of us with pride to see hard-work and dedication pay off (literally) and be valued for its content.
This year’s fiction winner, Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad, already a National Book Award winner, has been received with rave reviews on this campus. If there is someone around who hasn’t already read this, they should get on it ASAP and catch up on the very important, and relevant, conversation. The world of this book is inventive and harrowing and, unfortunately, all too American.
For poetry, the prize went to Tyemhimba Jess and his book Olio. Tyehimba did an interview for the podcast Between the Covers back in November that you might’ve missed around the holiday season. I strongly suggest you go back and check it out. Similar to Whitehead’s novel, this book is incredibly imaginative and plays around with form and structure in a way that is both somehow refreshingly new and steeped in tradition. Interestingly, Jess confronts John Berryman’s “minstrel voice” from Berryman’s own Pulitzer Prize winning book. This is a book of poetry that at once inspires as well as leaves you feeling drained and overwhelmed. Well worth the money for this one at any price.