NEW YORK (AP) — Trumpeter Wynton Marsalis became the first jazz composer to win the Pulitzer Prize for music Monday, receiving the award for “Blood on the Fields,” his epic oratorio on slavery.
“It means it’ll be more easy for other musicians who write in jazz,” a coolly collected Marsalis, an eight-time Grammy winner, said from his Manhattan apartment. “The value of the music is being recognized.”
The piece, written for 14 musicians and three singers, was commissioned by Lincoln Center where Marsalis has been artistic director of its Jazz at Lincoln Center for the last decade.
“Blood on the Fields” centers on two people, Jesse and Leona, who arrive in America on a slave ship. “It’s about them and it’s about the music — the music is a character,” said the 35-year-old Marsalis. “The musicians are like a Greek chorus. They comment on what’s going on.”
The three-hour composition had a mixed reception during a recent tour. When it was performed in New York earlier this year, some critics said it was too rambling and too long.
Frank McCourt’s best-selling “Angela’s Ashes: A Memoir,” his bittersweet remembrances of growing up in the slums of Limerick, Ireland, won the prize for biography.
The author, who taught for much of his career in the New York City public school system, said the critically embraced book was named for his mother, who wouldn’t have liked it. “It was too revealing,” he said. “She was ashamed of our past. … Her way of expressing her emotions would have been to cry.”
For the first time since 1986, no award was given for drama. Although three finalists were considered, “the board felt none of (them) fulfilled the criteria for a Pulitzer,” said awards administrator Seymour Topping.
The Pulitzer hasn’t been award for drama on 13 other occasions.
Lisel Mueller, a German immigrant, took the poetry prize, winning for “Alive Together: New and Selected Poems.”
“I don’t think about awards when I write poetry,” the 73-year-old Mueller said from her home in Lake Forest, Ill. “But when they come, they come out of the blue because I certainly didn’t expect this.”
The fiction prize went to Steven Millhauser for “Martin Dressler: The tale of an American Dreamer.” Millhauser, 53, teaches English at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. His novel follows the career of a shopkeeper’s son who becomes the owner of a hotel.
“It was startling,” Millhauser said of his win. “I was quite serious that there was an error and I’m still not entirely sure there isn’t an error.”
Richard Kluger won the general non-fiction Pulitzer for “Ashes to Ashes: America’s Hundred-Year Cigarette War, the Public Health and the Unabashed Triumph of Philip Morris.”
Kluger, 62, has had a long career in journalism including jobs at The Wall Street Journal, the New York Post, Forbes magazine and the New York Herald-Tribune.
Jack N. Rakove, a 49-year-old professor at Stanford University, took the history award for “Original Meanings: Politics and Ideas in the Making of the Constitution.” The book, according to one reviewer, “offers a deeply satisfying account of the political world from which the United States Constitution issued.”
Topping said the Marsalis piece has strong jazz elements. This is a first for the music category.