NEW YORK (AP) — “Hamilton,” the hip-hop stage biography of Alexander Hamilton, has won the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for drama, honoring creator Lin-Manuel Miranda for a dazzling musical that has captured popular consciousness like few Broadway shows.
The Columbia University’s prize board on Monday cited “Hamilton” as “a landmark American musical about the gifted and self-destructive founding father whose story becomes both contemporary and irresistible.” Other finalists were “Gloria,” by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins and “The Humans,” by Stephen Karam.
“I feel really humbled and really overwhelmed,” Miranda told The Associated Press. “Columbia is Hamilton’s alma mater so I think that gave me a home-court advantage. But it’s extraordinary to be recognized in this way.”
Viet Thanh Nguyen’s “The Sympathizer,” a debut novel set in the final days of the Vietnam War and narrated in flashback by a former Communist agent who infiltrated the South Vietnamese Army, won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction.
The 45-year-old author, currently in Cambridge, Massachusetts, to promote the paperback edition of his novel, told The Associated Press that he wrote “The Sympathizer” for himself but feels many can relate to it.
“I think most people in their inner selves are conscious of being an impostor, being an observer, not being the person everyone thinks they are,” he said. “For the novel I took that to the extreme in using a spy and adding the dimensions of the thriller and historical fiction.”
“Black Flags: The Rise of ISIS” by Joby Warrick won for general nonfiction. Warrick also won the Pulitzer in 1996, as part of a team reporting on the environmental and health risks of waste disposal systems used in North Carolina’s growing hog industry.
“There’s nothing like getting hit by lightning twice,” Warrick said in a telephone interview.
Warrick said that if there was a chief lesson he sought to impart in his new book, which traces the origins and growth of ISIS, it was that “decisions have consequences” and the West, in many ways, helped propel the group. “We are not innocent in the rise of this organization,” he said.
The history prize was won by “Custer’s Trials: A Life on the Frontier of a New America,” by T.J. Stiles, lives in Berkeley, California, with his wife and two children.
He told The Associated Press that he had long been interested in the story of George Armstrong Custer, the butt of jokes for the disastrous Battle of the Little Big Horn.
“Custer is a difficult subject, because he’s very familiar and someone who has been reduced to caricature, if not an effigy in American memory,” he said. “Writing about him in an honest way, without apologizing for him, is an incredibly difficult thing to do.”
The book “Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life,” by William Finnegan won in the biography or autobiography category, cited as a “memoir of a youthful obsession”
Finnegan, 63, is a longtime staff reporter for The New Yorker and his book tells of his childhood in California and Hawaii and his lifelong passion for surfing. He told The Associated Press that he was used to writing about other people, but eventually enjoyed taking on his own life.
“It’s a strange genre for a reporter, reporting out your own past, when everything was your private life and not on the record,” said Finnegan, whose previous books include “Dateline Soweto: Travels with Black South African Reporters” and “Crossing the Line.”
“But in some ways it’s a genre that suits me, too. I enjoyed it, almost guiltily.”
“In for a Penny, In for a Pound,” by Henry Threadgill was named the winner in the music category. The 72-year-old Chicago-born jazz artist said he wrote the composition for members of his band, Zooid.
“It was something to showcase each musician in the ensemble, that was the big thing,” Threadgill said. “It was like a series of small concertos in a way, small solo pieces.”
But it was the drama award that generated the most buzz. “Hamilton,” about the first U.S. Treasury Secretary, becomes the ninth musical to win the drama award, joining such shows as “South Pacific,” ”Sunday in the Park with George” and “Rent.” The last musical to nab the award was “Next to Normal” in 2010.
It tells the story of how an orphan immigrant from the Caribbean rose to the highest ranks of American society, as told by a young African-American and Latino cast. Miranda leaned on Ron Chernow’s biography of the Founding Father, but told the tale in common language and verse, transforming Hamilton into “the $10 Founding Father without a father.”
Miranda, 36, who wrote the music and story, already has a Tony for creating the Broadway musical “In the Heights,” a show which was nominated for a Pulitzer in 2009 and this month won three Olivier Awards in London. He also has an Emmy for writing the opening number for the 2013 Tony Awards.
In the past year, Miranda, whose family came from Puerto Rico to New York, has won a “genius grant” from the MacArthur Foundation, as well as the Edward M. Kennedy Prize for Drama Inspired by American History, which came with $100,000.
The drama award was widely expected to go to Miranda this year. The album for “Hamilton” won a Grammy Award and became the highest-debuting cast recording on the Billboard Top 200 in over 50 years. The show is a leading favorite in this summer’s Tony Awards. The libretto, published last week, immediately became a top seller on Amazon.com
“I’m just trying to stay as present and in the moment as possible because I’m fully aware that this speeds by in the highlight reel. I’m living in the highlight reel section of my life,” Miranda said. “I want to slow the montage down.”
“Hamilton” was a sold-out sensation this year when it debuted off-Broadway at New York’s Public Theater and amassed a $60 million advance on Broadway. It has been cheered by politicians as diverse as Dick Cheney and President Barack Obama, and celebrities like British actress Helen Mirren, musician Questlove and many others.
The music is a mix of breezy pop, rap battles and slinky R&B. Lyrics are smart and playful, including Hamilton declaring: “In the face of ignorance and resistance/I wrote a financial system into existence.”
The Pulitzer drama award, which includes a $10,000 prize, is “for a distinguished play by an American author, preferably original in its source and dealing with American life,” according to the guidelines.
Previous playwrights honored include August Wilson, Edward Albee, Eugene O’Neill, Arthur Miller and Tennessee Williams. Recent winners include Annie Baker’s “The Flick,” Ayad Akhtar’s “Disgraced” and Stephen Adly Guirgis’s “Between Riverside and Crazy.”
Associated Press reporters Hillel Italie and Jocelyn Noveck in New York, and Kristin M. Hall in Nashville, Tennessee, contributed to this report.