Book reviews, Pullitzer, Booker, Costa and Children's Book reviews
Book reviews, Pullitzer, Booker, Costa and Children's Book reviews
Prize Winning Fiction
Prize Winning Fiction

1978 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction Winner

Elbow Room by James Alan McPherson


Publisher: The Ballantine Publishing Company

Length: 286 pages

About: Twelve stories about black Americans

Style: 1st & 3rd person

Where: US

When: 1960s and 1970s



Publisher’s synopsis:

Elbow Room consists of twelve diverse stories sharing no common point of view. 'Why I like Country Music' and 'The Story of a Dead Man' are attempts by narrators intent on setting another character straight on events and/or conditions of the past. These stories, therefore, alternate between first-person present and third person past. 'The Story of a Scar' is a first-person, past tense story within a story, with an anonymous male telling about the experience of listening to an anonymous female victim of a slashing tell her harrowing tale. 'Widows and Orphans' and 'Just Enough for the City' are told in the first-person past tense, and the remaining stories are told in an impersonal third person past. All of the narrators are black and most of the conflicts are among blacks.



But Gweneth Lawson was above regional idealization. Though I might have loved her partly because she was a Northerner, I loved her more because of the world of colors that seemed to be suspended above her head. I loved her glowing forehead and I loved her bright, dark brown eyes; I loved the black braids, the red and blue and sometimes yellow and pink ribbons; I loved the way the deep, rich brown of her neck melted into the pink or white cloth of her Peter Pan collar; I loved the lemony vapor on which she floated and from which, on occasion, she seemed to be inviting me to be buoyed up, up, up into her happy world.




McPherson is an astute realist who knows how to turn the conflicts between individual personalities and the surrounding culturte into artful and highly serious comedies of manners.


Not so good:

...tell the reader a bit less than he wants to know about the characters' lives and a bit more than he wants to know about the ideological or artistic problems that confronted the narrator.

The New Yorker 21st November 1977


About the author

James Alan McPherson was born in Savannah, Georgia, in 1943, and raised there. His background was lower-middle class, and he grew up at a time when Georgia's public schools were still segregated. After college, McPherson attended Harvard Law School, receiving his law degree in 1968. While still in law school, he began writing fiction. His story 'Gold Coast' won a contest in the Atlantic magazine, which gave him encouragement to abandon his law career. He is now a professor of English at the University of Iowa.


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Page turner







Age guide: 12




Novels by same author:







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2016 Pulitzer Prize Winner

It's a massive day in arts and journalism because the 100th annual Pulitzer Prize winners were just announced, and there's a big surprise. 2015's best artistic and nonfiction writing across 21 categories were recognized during a ceremony Monday afternoon at Columbia University in New York City. The first Pulitzer Prize was awarded to Hebert Bayward Swope, a reporter for The New York World, in 1916. (And if you're as big a fan of Newsies as I am, that paper should ring a bell, but try to think of it more positively.)

The major prize for book nerds, the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction went to The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen (Grove Press), a legitimate surprise, if you've been paying attention to the book nerd and industry buzz. The feeling around the prize in the last few months would have you putting all your hard-earned cash down on A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara to take home the award, but that's why you should never gamble. Viet Thanh Nguyen is no less deserving, and moreover, it's his debut novel, which makes it such a wonderful win.

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