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Pulitzer Prizes recognize work of three Native Americans

When the winners and finalists of the 2021 Pulitzer Prizes were announced in June, the list included three Native Americans. The prestigious awards are named after newspaper publisher Joseph Pulitzer. There are 21 categories and the board is comprised of 19 members.

Novelist Louise Erdrich (Turtle Mountain band of Chippewa) won the prize in fiction for her novel “The Night Watchman.” Natalie Diaz (Mojave/Gila River Indian Tribe) won the prize in poetry for her collection “Postcolonial Love Poem.” In addition, one of the finalists included cartoonist Marty Two Bulls Sr.’s (Oglala Lakota) work about current events.

Erdrich’s novel follows a Chippewa councilman and a young plant worker who embark on a dangerous trip to find her older sister, according to the book publisher’s description. The story takes place during the Indian termination period of the 1950s and is based on the life of Erdrich’s grandfather who “carried the fight against Native dispossession from rural North Dakota all the way to Washington, D.C.,” the description said. The Pulitzer board described “The Night Watchman” as “a majestic, polyphonic novel about a community’s efforts to halt the proposed displacement and elimination of several Native American tribes in the 1950s, rendered with dexterity and imagination.”

Novelist Louise Erdrich (Image via Facebook)

Erdrich has written 17 novels and has been a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize once before. She is only the second Native American novelist to receive the fiction prize. The first was Kiowa writer N. Scott Momaday’s “House Made of Dawn” in 1969. Momaday was the first Native American to win a Pulitzer Prize in any category.

Meanwhile, Diaz’s book publisher described her “Postcolonial Love Poem” collection as one that “demands that everybody carried in its pages – bodies of language, land, rivers, suffering brothers, enemies, and lovers – be touched and held as beloveds.” The Pulitzer board called it “a collection of tender, heart-wrenching and defiant poems that explore what it means to love and be loved in an America beset by conflict.” She is the first Native American to receive the Pulitzer for poetry.

While the Pulitzer board declined to award a prize for editorial cartooning this year, Two Bulls Sr.’s cartoons about politics, policing and the Covid-19 pandemic were nominated as a finalist “for innovative and insightful cartoons that offer a Native American perspective on contemporary news events,” the board said.

Cartoonist Marty Two Bulls Sr. (Image via Facebook)

In addition, the Pulitzer board also recognized two books about Native Americans by non-Native authors.

Journalist Sierra Crane Murdoch’s “Yellow Bird: Oil, Murder, and a Woman’s Search for Justice in Indian Country,” was nominated as a finalist for general nonfiction. The book follows Lissa Yellow Bird’s search for a missing young and white oil worker on the Berthold Indian Reservation in North Dakota amidst a community and environment reshaped by the Bakkan oil boom, the book publisher’s description said. The Pulitzer board said the book is “a richly-layered story with an imperfect yet memorable protagonist battling corruption, greed and intergenerational trauma when a fracking oil boom collides with reservation life in North Dakota.”

Historian Megan Kate Nelson’s work “The Three Cornered War: The Union, the Confederacy, and Native Peoples in the Fight for the West” was nominated as a finalist in the history category. The book examines conflicts in the West through the story of how nine individuals, including a Chiricahua Apache chief, a Confederate soldier and a Union army wife, “fought for self-determination and control of the region,” the book publisher’s description said. The Pulitzer board said the book was “a lively and well-crafted Civil War narrative that expands understanding of the conflict’s Western theaters, where pivotal struggles for land, resources and influence presaged the direction of the country as a whole.”

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Damon Scott
Damon is a multimedia journalist for the Seminole Tribune. He has previously been an editor and reporter for digital and print media in Florida and his home state of New Mexico. Send him an email at