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THE PULITZER PRIZES

Philip Roth Is Fiction Winner for 'Pastoral'

Arts: The author of 22 novels gets his first Pulitzer in his fourth time as a finalist. Paula Vogel takes the award for drama.

April 15, 1998|DAVID SHAW | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Philip Roth, who has already won virtually every major literary prize, finally won a Pulitzer Tuesday in his fourth time as a finalist.

Roth's 22nd novel, "American Pastoral," was honored as the year's best fiction. The author of such acclaimed (and often-controversial) novels as "Portnoy's Complaint," "The Counterlife," "Patrimony," "Sabbath's Theater" and the comic trilogy "Zuckerman Bound," Roth, 65, had previously won the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award.

Roth's characters have often been writers whose careers resembled his own, but in "American Pastoral," he wrote about a high school athlete and what happened to him in the course of raising a family in the increasingly contentious and unstable 1960s.

Roth's first novel, published in 1959, was "Goodbye, Columbus," an instant critical success and subsequently a successful movie. Ten years later, "Portnoy's Complaint" made him an international celebrity.

Paula Vogel won the Pulitzer Prize in drama for "How I Learned to Drive," the tale of a young woman molested by her uncle. Vogel said the play was inspired by "Lolita," Vladimir Nabokov's classic novel of underage seduction and a longtime favorite of hers.

"I wondered if I could write the story from Lolita's point of view," she said Tuesday. "I kept the play in my head and worked on it for about 15 years. The writing itself happened in about two weeks."

Vogel, 46, said she heard the news of her Pulitzer triumph "while I was trying to pay bills to calm myself down. I'm profoundly in awe, realizing the writers I'm joining."

Her play was first performed at a small theater near Union Square in Manhattan and later moved to a larger off-Broadway theater, where it won several local awards. It is scheduled to close Sunday. It will open a six-week run at the Mark Taper Forum at the Music Center next February. Vogel said the play's original stars, Mary-Louise Parker and David Morse, will appear in that production, to be staged by the original director Mark Brokaw.

Although the Pulitzer Prize Board has separate juries and, in effect, somewhat different systems for the journalism and the arts-and-letters prizes, there was one notable "crossover" winner Tuesday: Katharine Graham, chairman of the executive committee of the Washington Post Co. She won a Pulitzer in biography for her autobiography, "A Personal History," published by Alfred A. Knopf.

"I mean you can't believe that this kind of thing could happen when you're 80," Graham said. "It's just an extraordinary and wonderful event."

Other winners in the Pulitzer arts and letters categories Tuesday included:

* Jared Diamond, in general nonfiction, for "Guns, Germs and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies" (W.W. Norton). Diamond is a professor of physiology at the UCLA School of Medicine;

* Edward J. Larson, in history, for "Summer for the Gods: The Scopes Trial and America's Continuing Debate Over Science and Religion" (Basic Books);

* Charles Wright, in poetry, for "Black Zodiac," his 11th collection of poems (Farrar, Straus and Giroux);

"It's better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick," Wright said of his award. "This is my fifth time as a finalist so I was fairly fatalistic about it. I'm very happy."

* Aaron Jay Kernis, in music, for "String Quartet No. 2 (musica instrumentalis).

Kernis said he was "completely speechless" on learning of his award. "I'm 38, which makes this even more incredible. I'm very shaken by this.

"The whole piece is based on Baroque and Medieval dance music. Two movements are very high energy. The middle, slow movement is very lyrical, lush and sad. It's dedicated to the memory of Betty Snapp, a friend, a wonderful person, who died in the middle of me writing that movement. It had a great effect on me and on that movement."

The Pulitzer Prize Board also bestowed a special posthumous citation on George Gershwin, commemorating the 100th year of his birth, for his "distinguished and enduring contributions to American music."

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