Author Colson Whitehead’s “The Nickel Boys,” a book about a brutal reform school for black boys in the Jim Crow South, on Monday won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction.
It is the second time in three years, Whitehead has won this prestigious literary award for fiction.
In 2017, he won the Pulitzer for “The Underground Railroad,” which takes place during the Civil War.
William Faulkner and John Updike have won more than one Pulitzer but not for books that immediately followed each other.
“The Nickel Boys” is based on a real school for boys that closed in Florida in 2011 after more than one hundred years. The 2019 novel is based on the real story of the Dozier School, a reform school in Florida that operated for 111 years and had its history exposed by a university’s investigation. It was named one of TIME’S best books of the decade.
Set in the 1960s, “The Nickel Boys” is a portrayal of racism and inequality.
Whitehead first heard of the real life Dozier School on Twitter in 2014. The school opened in 1900 and closed in 2011. The state of Florida ran Dozier, in Marianna, as a reform school. After decades of allegations against the school for allowing the beatings, rapes, torture, and even murder of students by guards and employees, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement began an investigation of the claims in 2010, followed by additional investigations by the United States Department of Justice in 2011 and an ongoing forensic investigation by the University of South Florida which began in 2012, the Department of Justice investigation revealed “systemic, egregious, and dangerous practices exacerbated by a lack of accountability and controls.” The University of South Florida investigation discovered some 55 graves on school grounds by December 2012, and has continued to identify potential grave sites as recently as March 2019. In addition, state legislators have been seeking relief for the school’s survivors,
The Pulitzer ceremony was scheduled for April 20 but because of the coronavirus, it was rescheduled to give board members more time evaluate the finalists.