8 Books by Female Pulitzer Prize Winners That Aren’t the Book They Won For

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Mariela Santos Muñiz

Staff Writer

An avid reader and lover of words, Mariela Santos-Muniz currently works as a freelance journalist and writer. Bilingual in English and Spanish, she holds an M.A. from Boston University in International Relations and International Communications. While she learned a lot during her time in Boston and had some really cool experiences there, she's happy to now be back in warm Puerto Rico.

First things first, the Pulitzer Prizes are a big deal. I’m a talking prestigious, headline news type of award – even being a finalist is an achievement. And for authors in particular, winning a Pulitzer Prize helps put them on the map, if they’re not already.

Some fast facts about the Pulitzer Prizes: Created in the early 1900s, the Pulitzer Prizes were set up through Joseph Pulitzer’s will. He was an influential journalist, newspaper publisher, and eventually a New York congressman. The Pulitzer Prize Board makes important decisions, like recommending the winners. Columbia University continues to be home for the awards, per Pulitzer’s wishes. The Pulitzer Prize winners announcement is annual, every April.

The prize has gone through some changes over time, including the addition of award categories. Currently, there are 21 awards in the following fields: written arts, journalism, and music. Past author winners from recent years include Louise Erdrich, the late Les Payne and Tamara Payne, Richard Powers, and Jericho Brown.

Here, you will find information on eight books that Pulitzer Prize–winning female authors wrote. However, they are not the book that won them the award. Take this as a sign to dive into prize-winning authors’ backlists; there are a ton of great books to discover out there beyond the ones that win awards.

My Name is Lucy Barton Book Cover

My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout

Lucy Barton is visited by her estranged mother after being operated on. Their relationship is complicated, and while her Mom tells Lucy about the goings-on in their hometown, deeper information about Lucy’s life is revealed.

This book is the first of Amgash trilogy. Amgash is a town in Illinois, in case you didn’t know.

Strout’s book Olive Kitteridge won the 2009 Pulitzer Prize in the Fiction category.

A Mercy Book Cover

A Mercy by Toni Morrison

Toni Morrison was a Nobel Laureate. Among her most well-known books (and there are many), are Song of Solomon and Sula.

A Mercy takes place during the U.S.’s colonial times. Women are at the center of events in this story, although there are multiple characters, and some are men. Readers follow their journeys as they grapple with systems that control them all – white women, Native American women, and Black women.

Morrison’s book, Beloved, was awarded the 1988 Pulitzer Prize in Fiction.

Faithful and Virtuous Night Book Cover

Faithful and Virtuous Night by Louise Glück

This poetry collection by Louise Glück, a Nobel Laurate, is a 2014 National Book Award winner for Poetry.

This collection is a reflection on mortality in which the reader is able to experience one story from different angles. “Precision of language, tone, and form is everywhere here, and as ‘night’ calls up mortality, also vision and ultimately a radical instability at the dream-crux of nocturnal relationships…”, according to the National Book Foundation.

Her book The Wild Iris won the 1993 Pulitzer Prize in Poetry. Glùck was also named the 2020 Nobel Laureate; listen to Jeff and Rebecca reflect on her life, work, and the award here.

Whereabouts Book Cover

Whereabouts by Jhumpa Lahiri

The story in Whereabouts takes place during a year, when a woman – the main character – is trying to find herself. Interestingly, the woman doesn’t have a name, and neither does the city where she lives. Following her journey, the readers gets to know the people she meets, the places she goes, and when things begin to change for her.

Lahiri’s Interpreter of Maladies won the 2000 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. It was her first published short story collection, with a total of nine short stories.

Elizabeth Bishop A Miracle for Breakfast Book Cover

Elizabeth Bishop: A Miracle for Breakfast by Megan Marshall

Megan Marshall is known for writing several biographies of American women. In Elizabeth Bishop: A Miracle for Breakfast, Marshall writes about the life of poet Elizabeth Bishop.

There was not much known about her, even though she’s a famous poet; the book presents her life story in a way that no other has; it’s unique because Marshall was a student of Bishop’s, so the biography includes memoir passages.

Marshall’s Margaret Fuller: A New American Life won the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Biography.

Postcards Book Cover

Postcards by Annie Proulx

This story is centered around a farming family in Vermont, and what they’re going through as society changes. The family has its issues, and one of its members (Loyal Blood) travels out west. He sends his family postcards, but he doesn’t make it possible to receive their replies.

She has also written under the name E. Annie Proulx.

Proulx’s The Shipping News won the 1994 Pulitzer Prize in Fiction.

South Side Girls Book Cover

South Side Girls by Marcia Chatelain

The book South Side Girls is set from 1910 to 1940, during The Great Migration in Chicago; it explores how a concept of Black girlhood that was constructed at the time, and its effects. The focus is on the real life stories of Black girls, and includes interviews and letters.

Chatelain is currently a professor at Georgetown University. Her book Franchise: The Golden Arches in Black America won the 2021 Pulitzer Prize for History. (The Golden Arches refers to McDonald’s).

The Round House Book Cover

The Round House by Louise Erdrich

A member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Native American tribe, many of her books center Native American stories. This particular book takes place in North Dakota’s Ojibwe reservation, featuring a boy that’s coming of age and dealing with a life-changing crime.

The Round House won the 2012 National Book Award for Fiction.

Erdrich’s book The Night Watchman won the 2021 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. And interestingly, her book The Plague of Doves was a 2009 finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Fiction.

Want to learn more about the Pulitzer Prizes? Here are lists on the 2021 and 2020 winners, plus a piece on Pulitzer-winning critics.