NEW YORK — Pulitzer judges upended decades of tradition by awarding its music prize Monday to Kendrick Lamar for his rap album “DAMN.,” a sharp departure from the classical and jazz works the body have consistently favored. The decision, which drew praise and surprise online, quickly overshadowed other arts winners, including Andrew Sean Greer’s win in the fiction category.
The Pulitzers were once so restrictive that an advisory board rejected giving a prize to Duke Ellington. The closest precedent to Lamar’s win came in 2008 when Bob Dylan received an honorary Pulitzer.
The group’s board called Lamar’s album a “virtuosic song collection” and said it captures “the modern African American life.” Classical composers were named as finalists: Michael Gilberton for “Quartet” and Ted Hearne for “Sound from the Bench.”
Greer’s novel “Less” tells the comic story about the misbegotten adventures of a middle-aged novelist. It didn’t receive the same attention as Jesmyn Ward’s “Sing, Unburied, Sing,” winner of the National Book Award, or George Saunders’ ”Lincoln in the Bardo.” But it was widely praised as poignant and funny and was ranked among the year’s best by The Washington Post, which called it an “elegantly” told story of a man who “loses everything: his lover, his suitcase, his beard, his dignity.”
The drama prize went to Martyna Majok “Cost of Living,” a drama featuring four characters, two of them disabled. Caroline Fraser’s work on author Laura Ingalls Wilder, “Prairie Fires,” won for biography. Jack E. Davis’ The Gulf: The Making of an American Sea” won for history, while the general nonfiction prize went to James Forman Jr’s “Locking Up Our Own: Crime and Punishment in Black America.”
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