Pulitzer Winners Bring 'the Best of' to the Festival of Books

The challenge of choosing the ‘best of’ from the 2016 Festival of Books is similar to the challenge of picking the next book to read from a near toppling stack of books, each expressly placed in a vertical queue that takes the shape of a well-rounded reading list.

So we confidently pull from the top during the centennial year of the Pulitzer Prize to find some of the best work in fiction, history, biography, international reporting, criticism and poetry from the last 35 years.

This led us to six Pulitzer Prize-winning authors, and they’re coming to the Festival of Books in Brookings, Sept. 22-25. They each represent the prestige and quality of the Pulitzer Prize in their categories.

  • Shirley Christian, 1981 – international reporting
  • Jane Smiley, 1992 – fiction (our 2016 One Book South Dakota author of Some Luck)
  • Robert Olen Butler, 1993 – fiction
  • Michael Dirda, 1993 – criticism
  • Ted Kooser, 2005 – poetry (returning to the Festival for the sixth time) 
  • T.J. Stiles, 2010 – biography, 2016 – history

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Jane Smiley (1992, fiction, for A Thousand Acres) greets Festival-goers on Friday, Sept. 23 with her One Book South Dakota keynote address (7:30 pm, Performing Arts Center). The SDHC chose Some Luck, the first in Smiley’s “Last Hundred Years” trilogy featuring a Midwest farm family, for the 2016 One Book SD selection. Reading groups around the state are discussing the book and preparing to meet Smiley at the Festival.

“She’s very entertaining and down to earth and a remarkable, versatile author,” said Jennifer Widman, Festival coordinator and director of the South Dakota Center for the Book.

Smiley will be in South Dakota only for the Festival and will join the full slate of Festival presenters at the mass book signing at 6:30 pm at the Performing Arts Center before her keynote address.

Ted Kooser, a Nebraska-based poet and now children’s author, returns to the Festival of Books on his sixth visit.  

“He’s been very supportive of the Festival and a good ambassador,” Widman said.

Readers know him best for his poetry and his “plainspoken style, his gift for metaphor, and his quiet discoveries of beauty in ordinary things,” notes his biography on his website.

During his time as Poet Laureate of the United States, Kooser won a Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 2005 with his collection Delights and Shadows. Recently, he has written two books for children, including The Bell in the Bridge, which was released in May and will be featured at the Young Readers Festival of Books in Sioux Falls and Brookings, Sept. 22-23.

Saturday night at the Festival, Kooser will sit on a Pulitzer Prize panel with four other Prize winners – Shirley Christian, Michael Dirda, Robert Olen Butler and T.J. Stiles. Christian and Dirda are both returning Festival presenters.

Before the Festival, Christian will also visit Presentation College in Aberdeen on Tuesday, Sept. 20 to discuss her book Before Lewis and Clark with students and at a public presentation that night.

Dirda is a readers' writer, best known for his book critiques at the Washington Post (which earned him a Pulitzer). He will share his insight and recommendations during several Festival sessions and feature his collection of essays, Browsings

Butler and Stiles are the newest additions to the Festival’s Pulitzer line-up.

Butler’s Perfume River releases early in September, just two weeks before the Festival. He won a Pulitzer for fiction in 1993 with A Good Scent from Strange Mountain

Widman met with Butler’s publishing representative at Book Expo America, and discovered that the dates of the Festival worked well with his new book’s release.

“The timing was serendipitous for everyone involved, and the book looks great,” she said. “Like some of his previous works, it examines issues of war, immigration and culture clashes, all of which are very pertinent today.”

The SDHC didn’t start looking into T.J. Stiles until they heard his name among the 2016 Pulitzer Prize winners announced at the April 20 ceremony. Stiles picked up his second Pulitzer, this one in history, for Custer’s Trials: A Life on the Frontier of a New America. His previous win was in biography, for The First Tycoon: The Epic Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt.

“We’re thrilled to have a 2016 winner among our Festival authors,” Widman said. “And it’s even more exciting to feature a writer who has won twice, in two different categories.”

For more information on the schedule and presenters at the Festival of Books, visit the Festival website at sdbookfestival.com