Women Writing/Writing Women

Women Who Have Won Pulitzer Prizes

Donna Tartt. Getty Images Entertainment

Donna Tartt has made headlines with her recent win of the Pulitzer Prize in fiction for her novel, The Goldfinch. However, women have been winning Pulitzers since the prize’s inception almost one hundred years ago. The women writers who have won Pulitzers have covered a range of issues, such as love, war, poverty, and identity. However, many of the women who have won this illustrious award have been particularly interested in women’s issues.

Here are just a few.

Edith Wharton (1862-1937) is perhaps best known for her novels depicting the stark and shallow lives of upper crust Americans at the turn of the century in works such as The House of Mirth (1905). She became the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1920 for The Age of Innocence, a novel that shows the dark side of wealthy New Yorkers, especially for women.

Gwendolyn Brooks (1917-2000) won the 1950 Pulitzer Prize for poetry for Annie Allen (1949), a poetry cycle about the evolution of a young black woman. Brooks was the first black woman to win this award. Brooks is also well known for her other collections of poetry such as A Street in Bronzeville (1945) and her novella Maud Martha (1953), as well as her two autobiographies, Report from Part One (1972) and Report from Part Two (1995).

Harper Lee (1926-) won the Pulitzer Prize in fiction with her novel To Kill a Mockingbird in 1961.

Set in the south during the Jim Crow era of segregation, the novel depicts the racism and violence that characterized that period of American history through the eyes of a young girl. To Kill a Mockingbird was also famously made into an Ocar-winning film starring Gregory Peck.

Sylvia Plath (1932-1963) was posthumously awarded the Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 1982 for her Collected Poems.

Although Plath had a short life, she was a fairly prolific author, publishing a novelized memoir, The Bell Jar, in 1963 and several volumes of poetry (much of which was released after her death). Her poetry is known for its violent imagery and descriptive language, often highlighting the numbing inanity of women’s lives.

Toni Morrison (1931-) won the 1988 Pulitzer Prize for fiction for her novel, Beloved. Morrison’s neoslave narrative that depicts the lives of formerly enslaved African Americans in antebellum and postbellum American. Women are at the center of the novel and must figure out how to navigate life with the haunting legacy of slavery. Morrison has frequently been called the best American novelist, and is also known for her other novels, such as The Bluest Eye (1970), Song of Solomon (1977), Jazz (1992), and Home (2012)

Wendy Wasserstein (1950-2006) won the 1989 Pulitzer Prize for drama with her play The Heidi Chronicles which illustrated the lives of young, upwardly-mobile college educated women and their struggles in postmodern America. Wasserstein was also a Tony award winning playwright, whose other works include Uncommon Women and Others (1977) and Isn't It Romantic?


Jhumpa Lahiri (1967-) won the Pulitzer Prize in 2000 for her short story collection, The Interpreter of Maladies. The collection focuses on the trials and triumphs of Indians, especially Indian women, on the subcontinent and the United States as they navigate life and love. Lahiri has published other texts including, The Namesake, Unaccustomed Earth, and The Lowland. Lahiri’s first novel, The Namesake, was made into a feature film directed by filmmaker Mira Nair.

Lynn Nottage (1964-) won the 2009 Pulitzer for drama with her play Ruined. The play depicts the lives and conditions of women in the war torn Democratic Republic of Congo, where rape as a tool of war has devastated many women’s lives. The Obie awarding winning playwright has also received acclaim for her other plays, including Intimate Apparel (2003) and By The Way, Meet Vera Stark (2011).