By Mark Kennedy
NEW YORK — “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 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.
Pulitzer judges praised the novel as “a layered immigrant tale told in the wry, confessional voice of a ‘man of two minds’ — and two countries, Vietnam and the United States.”
“Black Flags: The Rise of ISIS” by Joby Warrick won for general nonfiction. Warrick also won the Pulitzer in 1996.
In his new book, Warrick, a journalist with The Washington Post, examines how the strain of militant Islam behind ISIS “first arose in a remote Jordanian prison and spread with the unwitting aid of two American presidents,” according to the publishers.
“In for a Penny, In for a Pound,” by Henry Threadgill, released on May 26, 2015, was named the winner in the music category.
Judges described the recording as “a highly original work in which notated music and improvisation mesh in a sonic tapestry that seems the very expression of modern American life.”
Other finalists included “The Blind Banister,” by Timo Andres and “The Mechanics: Six from the Shop Floor,” by Carter Pann.
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 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.”