16 Pulitzer Prize Winners You Should Read

It felt a little bit like what I imagine drafting season feels like for sports fans around Pretty Literate on Monday afternoon. 

Remember last year when I shared that one of my #BucketList items was to read through the Pulitzer Prize-winners?

ALL of the Pulitzer Prize-winners.

Well, Monday the newest winners were announced, and because of that, this week seems like the perfect time to share a few of my favorite past Pulitzer Prize Winners with you.

Grab a cuppa caffeine and sit back while I share the ones that I connected with - the ones whose timeless writing resonated with me as I poured through the pages of their award-winning books.

Want to read a Pulitzer Prize winner, but are unsure where to begin? Let me introduce you to 16 Pulitzer Prize Winners You Should Read


Edith Wharton
The Age of Innocence (1921)

Edith Wharton fascinates me. Not only was she the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize, she came from a world completely foreign to me - New York society during the Gilded Age in America. That old saying, keeping up with the Joneses? Her birth family were the Joneses that phrase described - literally! (Yes, her maiden name was Jones.) Even though my palms begin to sweat at the thought of making small talk with someone from that sphere of society, I found Wharton surprisingly easy to connect with...and I think you will find that true, too. Here are 10 Ways {I Bet} You Connect with Edith Wharton.

Edna Ferber
So Big (1925)

I read Edna Ferber's Pulitzer Prize winner for the first time this year and loved it so much that I shared it with Pretty Literate's Monthly Book Club in April. Ferber's heroine in So Big is so relatable and truly someone I think we can all easily connect with. By the end of the novel, it is inevitable that you will have found a new leading lady to admire in So Big's main character, Selina. (Explore Edna Ferber's classic together with a novel treasure that you can enjoy for decades here.)

Pearl S. Buck
The Good Earth (1932)

The credit for reading The Good Earth (which introduced me to author Pearl S. Buck) goes out to my 10th Grade English teacher, Mrs. Coleman. The daughter of American missionaries to China, Buck grew up overseas and, as an adult, partially in America. She was the product of "several worlds," was fluently bilingual, and a voracious reader herself - all of which influenced her body of 100+ works of literature - and led to her becoming the first American woman to win both a Pulitzer and a Nobel Prize.

Josephine Winslow Johnson
Now in November (1935)

The youngest to win the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction (at age 24), her winning novel Now in November is a realistic portrayal of farming during the Great Depression in her native state of Missouri. If you love reading about the Dust Bowl or the Great Depression, or you love books that capture nature in all it's glory and fury, you may enjoy Johnson's first work, Now in November


Margaret Mitchell
Gone With the Wind (1937)

I devoured Margaret Mitchell's post-Civil War, epic tome in 2022 and all I have to say is, WOW. Never having seen the film, I was a blank slate. I did not even realize Gone With the Wind was set around America's Civil War! But I loved every single page in this truly deserving winner, interestingly the only novel the author had published in her lifetime. (I hate to gate keep your choices, but you absolutely MUST READ Margaret Mitchell's Gone With the Wind. Periodt.)

John Steinbeck
The Grapes of Wrath (1940)

I read another, shorter novel by Steinbeck years ago and it just didn't hit me in my sweet spot, so I was unsure what to expect when I picked up The Grapes of Wrath a couple of years ago. All I can say is, Oh. My. Goodness. Like Gone With the Wind, I was enamored by every single page of Steinbeck's Pulitzer Prize winner - so much so that it sparked a year-long love affair with any book I could read set during the Great Depression - and inspired me to read more of his novels, including this one that has become another one of my all-time favorites. (Looking for a great, but shorter read by John Steinbeck? Check out the Summer Road Trip Book Box, which ships the end of May.)

Ernest Hemingway
The Old Man and the Sea (1953)

My husband does not read a lot of Fiction, but when he does, it is usually Ernest Hemingway and The Old Man and the Sea is a prime example why. Hemingway's Pulitzer Prize Winner about an old Cuban fisherman in the Gulf of Mexico struggling with the catch of his life is a thoughtful, complex, beautifully-written book about relationships and finding meaning in life. If you've never read Hemingway before, The Old Man and the Sea is the best place to begin. (I paired the classic with the perfect novel treasure in this book box, and there is only one left.) 

Harper Lee
To Kill a Mockingbird (1961)

If you've never read Harper Lee's acclaimed novel, you are in for a real treat! It is full of all the feels of yesteryear and yet still manages to cover the big issue of the day - racism. There's a reason it won the Pulitzer Prize in 1961 and why high school students are still required to read it - it remains as relevant today as it did when it was published over 60 years ago. Connect with Harper Lee's Pulitzer Prize-winning classic in a creative, new way with our last To Kill a Mockingbird Book Box.

Eudora Welty
The Optimist's Daughter (1973)

My first Eudora Welty novel, I became so captivated by Eudora Welty's Pulitzer Prize winner earlier this year that I knew it was destined to be the book we read together this month inside Pretty Literate's Monthly Book Club. Expect to feel some feels as you read and remember your loved ones because this book is bound to make you want to reach out and hug someone.

John Kennedy Toole
A Confederacy of Dunces (1981)

This is a winner I had been meaning to read for a while and when one of my Monthly Book Club members curated a book box for me featuring Toole's Pulitzer Prize Winner, I was more than ready to dive in. Toole's own life reads like a novel, with the author suffering from depression (among other things) and his manuscripts receiving rejections from publishers during his lifetime only added to his mental state of mind. His cheeky, satirical novel A Confederacy of Dunces was published (and won the Pulitzer Prize) posthumously, the author sadly taking his own life at the age of 31.

Alice Walker
The Color Purple (1983)

Familiar with the title solely because Oprah Winfrey starred in the movie adaptation (1985) when I was a teenager, The Color Purple was another winner that I'd heard of, but knew nothing about. The first African-American woman to win the Pulitzer Prize, Walker's winning novel set in rural Georgia was one inspired in part by the author's roots and a story her sister shared with her about their grandfather. The eighth child of a rural Georgia sharecropping family, Walker (who was accidentally blinded by a BB-gun in one eye as a child) began writing as a young girl when her mother gave her a typewriter, encouraging her to write instead of doing chores following the injury. The author penned over 50 books, her Pulitzer Prize-winning The Color Purple being the one for which she is most known.

Larry McMurtry
Lonesome Dove (1986)

Wholly unfamiliar with the author, my sister loaned me a copy of Lonesome Dove in 2021 because it was a favorite of hers. It soon became one of mine, as well! Initially set in the wide-open, lonely landscapes of the West Texas/Mexican border (one of our favorite places in Texas!) and sweeping north all the way to Montana, Lonesome Dove is the epitome of Western literature and an adventure every reader should experience at least once.

(I'll be sharing Lonesome Dove via audiobook with my husband later this month as we go on a road trip for our anniversary, so expect Lonesome Dove to pop up in conversation in the coming weeks on social. This Pulitzer Prize winner is definitely worthy of excessive discussion.)

Cormac McCarthy
The Road (2007)

I had never heard of Cormac McCarthy...until I sent an email to everyone I knew asking for book suggestions during a reading dry spell about 15 years ago. Apparently the book had just been published and won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, so a LOT of my friends recommended it. The Road was my first post-apocalyptic novel and the one that opened up an entire genre to me, so OF COURSE I think you should read it, too. But more than the setting, the book is about relationships, sacrifice, love, endurance, perseverance, and the resilience of the human spirit.

If post-apocalyptic literature is not your jam, take a look at McCarthy's All the Pretty Horses, the first in the author's Border Trilogy set on the border between Texas & Mexico.

Anthony Doerr

All the Light We Cannot See (2015)

If you have spent any time online within the past five years, you are undoubtedly familiar with the cover of Anthony Doerr's insanely well-received second novel, All the Light We Cannot See. Set in France during WW2, the novel tells the story of two teenagers whose paths cross briefly, but momentously. Doerr's reason for writing the novel was to explore humanity on both sides of the conflict and it seems universally agreed that the author achieved his purpose.

Colson Whitehead

The Underground Railroad (2017)

Two-time Pulitzer Prize winning author, Colson Whitehead's fantastical story about the Underground Railroad reimagines the historical Underground Railroad as a physical railroad with stops along the line as the main characters (runaway slaves) escape to freedom. Part historical fiction, part fantasy, The Underground Railroad is an alternate history ride you will find hard to forget.

Winfred Rembert (as told to Erin I. Kelly)
Chasing Me to My Grave: An Artist's Memoir of the Jim Crow South (2022)

This is the first biographical Pulitzer Prize winner that I've experienced and it did not disappoint. My husband chose it a year ago as an audiobook to enjoy together while we traveled home from our anniversary trip to West Texas and we both enjoyed the raw, real, sober view of self Winfred Rembert shared in his biography.

Chasing Me to My Grave is one of those "walk a mile in my shoes"-type books (sometimes cringey, sometimes sympathetic, always honest) that leave you feeling like you've gained insight into someone else's experience that you would never have had the opportunity to obtain walking a hundred miles in your own.

My husband and I both appreciated the truthful narrative shared, one that did not shy away from or gloss over the less-than-savory aspects of Mr. Rembert's life or the mistakes that he made that hurt not only himself, but his wife and family. It is a story of forgiveness, redemption, and the role others play in helping us find our way on the path of life. It is an artists' tale, told through a unique medium. 

Share Your Winners

Which Pulitzer Prize winning authors & titles have you connect with? Which would you recommend? Add your top award-winning authors and titles in the comments.

1 comment

  • I have read several of the PP winners you reviewed above and I concur with your recommendations. I do wonder a bit at your description of GWTW as a post-civil war novel as it covers the beginning, the middle, the ending and the post-war. It is a favorite of mine and I have read it 3-4 times. It is kind of shocking to realize how many PP winners have been banned at one time or another! I am absolutely against the banning of books but that is a discussion for a different time.
    I tend to enjoy the older PP winning fiction more than more modern winners, but I would recommend Louise Erdrich’s 2021 PP winner “The Night Watchman”, which is set in the 1950s and explores the lives of interconnected tribal members and their experiences in attempting to create a more prosperous life for themselves off the reservation, the connections which send them in search of the ones they have lost in the hopelessness in which some find themselves, and the way in which the tribe and spiritualism can help heal and bring a sense of belonging. It was an eye-opening novel and I learned many things, not the least of which what a “waterjack” was.
    I have been interested in two new PP fiction winners from this year, Demon Copperhead and Trust and I will be reading both of those as soon as I can get my hands on them!

    Lynda A.

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