Pulitzers announced; Diaz, Letts deserved winners

Jarrett

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In a rare turn, the Pulitzer Committee has awarded two daring, seriously ambitious, creative works for the 2008 Fiction and Drama Prizes. First, "The Brief, Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao" by Junot Diaz, (interviewed in the upcoming May, 2008 issue of In These Times), is the winner of the Pulitzer for Fiction. And rightfully so. "Oscar Wao" reads with a commanding flow like the narrator's walking through the Bronx with you telling the tale, it's an in-depth literary triptych about the titular forlorn, ghetto-nerd himself repeatedly seeking love in all the seriously wrong places, his mother's ruined girlhood in the DR under gangster-dictator Trujillo, and Oscar's knives-out, "goth" sister's endless attempts to escape the blunt force of her hardened mother. The book jumps masterfully between eras and characters, and stays one step ahead of you so you're constantly disarmed. Like Philip Roth's "Sabbath's Theatre," it's the sort of book you hope will win the Pulitzer but so rarely does. Ditto this year's winner for Drama: "August: Osage County" by Tracy Letts. This one was the best show in Chicago in 2007 and, according to Chief Theatre Critic Chris Jones at the Chicago Tribune "is the first time ever that a playwright who lives in Chicago has won the Pulitzer for a play that premiered in Chicago." At three hours, this brutal play with teeth is like the best Albee with a dash of Shepard, but set in rural Oklahoma. It brings to life a family whose greatest thirst is for the blood they can draw from one another with their nasty, cutting, painfully funny words - the only familial contact left possible. It also sports probably one of the most memorable matriarchs in the American theatrical canon, (pick up a copy and read her claw-hammer speech), which is probably why the endless, mostly off-base comparisons to O'Neill. The Steppenwolf ensemble-heavy cast devour these characters with endlessly watchable spit, characteristic grit, and abandon. It's currently in an open run on Broadway. Congratulations to both Diaz and Letts.

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