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Pulitzer Prize Winning Novels List: Greatest Books of the 20th Century

Updated on July 26, 2012

Pulitzer Prize Winning Novels List: Greatest Books of the 20th Century

The Pulitzer Prize is considered one of the most prestigious American awards. First established by a publisher by the name of Joseph Pulitzer, the Pulitzer Prize is awarded by Columbia University on an annual basis. The prize is awarded for outstanding achievements within newspaper journalism, literature, drama, and music composition. The first Pulitzer Prizes were awarded on June 4, 1917, just months after America’s entry into World War I. Due to political influences, inability to come to a consensus, and other factors, the Pulitzer Prize for literature was not issued in certain years. Typically, however, prizes are awarded on an annual basis in twenty-one different categories. In all but one of these categories, winners are awarded a certificate and $10,000. In the final and largely representative category, a gold medal is awarded to the American newspaper that wins the Public Service category. This site chronicles a complete list, along with links, of every Pulitzer Prize winning novel. These are the books that are usually considered the best examples of writing in the English language. They include many of the essential books, the books everybody should read.

Famous Pulitzer Prize Winners

Over the years, there have been many famous, talented Pulitzer Prize winners. Some of the fiction winners were Ernest Hemingway, Eudora Welty, Saul Bellow, William Faulkner, and Margaret Mitchell. President John F. Kennedy won a Pulitzer Prize in the biography category. Robert Frost won a Pulitzer for Poetry. Tennessee Williams, Arthur Miller, Rodgers and Hammerstein, and Stephen Sondheim won in drama.

A select few have received more than one Pulitzer Prize. David McCullough won two Pulitzers in biography. Robert Frost won four times in poetry! Margaret Leech won twice in history. William Faulkner, Norman Mailer, John Updike, and Booth Tarkington all won twice for fiction.

Interestingly, seven Pulitzer Prize winners in fiction have also won the Nobel Prize for literature. Sinclair Lewis, Pearl S. Buck, William Faulkner, Ernest Hemingway, John Steinbeck, Saul Bellow and Toni Morrison each won both prestigious awards. Of these amazing authors, all but two won the Pulitzer first. Faulkner won his Nobel Prize in 1949 before he won the first of his two Pulitzer Prizes, in 1955 and 1963. In 1976, Bellow won both prizes in the same year!

Joseph Pulitzer

"Put it before them briefly so they will read it, clearly so they will appreciate it, picturesquely so they will remember it and, above all, accurately so they will be guided by its light." - Joseph Pulitzer


Pulitzer Prize Forum and Poll

Please take a moment to page down to the bottom of this site. There is a readers' poll and a forum. We'd really love to know what you think. Please let us know what your favorite Pulitzer Prize novel is, and feel free to tell us about any of these fine books.  Enjoy!

Greatest Books of the 20th Century: Making the Grade

I've rated the Pulitzer books based on input given by hundreds of teachers, multiple reviews found throughout the Internet, my own recommendations, and comments from over 2,000 students. Additional input and book reviews are always welcomed and reviewed. Just leave a comment at the bottom of this site.  Don't forget to vote!

Arizonataylor's rating system:

!         The book is merely okay.

!!        This is a good book.

!!!       This is a very good book.

!!!!      This book is great.

!!!!!     This book is amazing!

Pulitzer Prize Winning Novels 2010s

Pulitzer Prize Winning Novels 2010s

2010: Tinkers by Paul Harding

Score: Currently Under Review

Pulitzer Prize Winning Novels 2000s


Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout

Score: !!!


The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz

Score: !!!


The Road by Cormac McCarthy

Score: !!!


March by Geraldine Brooks

Score: !!!


Gilead by Marilynne Robinson

Score: !!!


The Known World by Edward P. Jones

Score: !!!!


Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides

Score: !!!!


Empire Falls by Richard Russo

Score: !!!!!


The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon

Score: !!!!!


Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri

Score: !!!!!

Pulitzer: A Life in Politics, Print, and Power

Pulitzer Prize Winning Novels 1990s


The Hours by Michael Cunningham

Score: !!!!


American Pastoral by Philip Roth

Score: !!!!


Martin Dressler: The Tale of an American Dreamer by Steven Millhauser

Score: !!!


Independence Day by Richard Ford

Score: !!!


The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields

Score: !!!


The Shipping News by E. Annie Proulx

Score: !!!!


A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain by Robert Olen Butler

Score: !!!!


A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley

Score: !!!


Rabbit at Rest by John Updike

Score: !!!!!


The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love by Oscar Hijuelos

Score: !!!!

Pulitzer Prize Winning Novels 1980s


Breathing Lessons by Anne Tyler

Score: !!!


Beloved by Toni Morrison

Score: !!!!!


A Summons to Memphis by Peter Taylor

Score: !!!


Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry

Score: !!!!


Foreign Affairs by Alison Lurie

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Ironweed by William Kennedy

Score: !!!!!


The Color Purple by Alice Walker

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Rabbit Is Rich by John Updike

Score: !!!!!


A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole (won posthumously)

Score: !!!!!


The Executioner's Song by Norman Mailer

Score: !!!!!

Pulitzer Prize Winning Novels 1970s


The Stories of John Cheever by John Cheever

Score: !!!!


Elbow Room by James Alan McPherson

Score: !!!


No Pulitzer Prize was awarded this year. (See Pulitzer Prize Controversy at the bottom of this site.)


Humboldt's Gift by Saul Bellow

Score: !!!!!


The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara

Score: !!!!!


No Pulitzer Prize was awarded this year. (See Pulitzer Prize Controversy at the bottom of this site.)


The Optimist's Daughter by Eudora Welty

Score: !!!!


Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner

Score: !!!


No Pulitzer Prize was awarded this year. (See Pulitzer Prize Controversy at the bottom of this site.)


The Collected Stories of Jean Stafford by Jean Stafford

Score: !!!

Pulitzer Prize Winning Novels 1960s


House Made of Dawn by N. Scott Momaday

Score: !!!


The Confessions of Nat Turner by William Styron

Score: !!!!


The Fixer by Bernard Malamud

Score: !!!!


The Collected Stories of Katherine Anne Porter by Katherine Anne Porter

Score: !!!


The Keepers of the House by Shirley Ann Grau

Score: !!!


No Pulitzer Prize was awarded this year.


The Reivers by William Faulkner

Score: !!!!


The Edge of Sadness by Edwin O'Connor

Score: !!


To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Score: !!!!!


Advise and Consent by Allen Drury

Score: !!!

Pulitzer Prize Editorials: America's Best Writing

Pulitzer Prize Winning Novels 1950s


The Travels of Jaimie McPheeters by Robert Lewis Taylor

Score: !!!


A Death in the Family by James Agee

Score: !!!!


No Pulitzer Prize was awarded this year. (See Pulitzer Prize Controversy at the bottom of this site.)


Andersonville by MacKinlay Kantor

Score: !!!I


A Fable by William Faulkner

Score: !!!!


No Pulitzer Prize was awarded this year.


The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway

Score: !!!!


The Caine Mutiny by Herman Wouk  (See Pulitzer Prize Controversy at the bottom of this site.)

Score: !!!!


The Town by Conrad Richter

Score: !!!


The Way West by A. B. Guthrie, Jr.

Score: !!!

Pulitzer Prize Winning Novels 1940s


Guard of Honor by James Gould Cozzens

Score: !!!


Tales of the South Pacific by James A. Michener

Score: !!!


All the King's Men by Robert Penn Warren

Score: !!!!


No Pulitzer Prize was awarded this year.


A Bell for Adano by John Hersey

Score: !!!


Journey in the Dark by Martin Flavin

Score: !!!


Dragon's Teeth by Upton Sinclair

Score: !!!


In This Our Life by Ellen Glasgow

Score: !!!


No Pulitzer Prize was awarded this year. (See Pulitzer Prize Controversy at the bottom of this site.)


The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

Score: !!!!! 

Pulitzer Prize Winning Novels 1930s


The Yearling by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings

Score: !!!!


The Late George Apley by John Phillips Marquand

Score: !!!


Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell

Score: !!!!!


Honey in the Horn by Harold L. Davis

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Now in November by Josephine Winslow Johnson

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Lamb in His Bosom by Caroline Miller

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The Store by Thomas Sigismund Stribling

Score: !!


The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck

Score: !!!!


Years of Grace by Margaret Ayer Barnes

Score: !!


Laughing Boy by Oliver La Farge

Score: !

Pulitzer Prize Winning Novels 1920s


Scarlet Sister Mary by Julia Peterkin

Score: !!!


The Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder

Score: !!!!


Early Autumn by Louis Bromfield (See Pulitzer Prize Controversy at the bottom of this site.)

Score: !


Arrowsmith by Sinclair Lewis (declined prize - See Pulitzer Prize Controversy at the bottom of this site.)

Score: !!!!


So Big by Edna Ferber

Score: !!!


The Able McLaughlins by Margaret Wilson

Score: !!!


One of Ours by Willa Cather

Score: !!


Alice Adams by Booth Tarkington

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The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton

Score: !!!!


No Pulitzer Prize was awarded this year.

Pulitzer Prize Winning Novels 1910s


The Magnificent Ambersons by Booth Tarkington

Score: !!!!


His Family by Ernest Poole

Score: !!!

Joseph Pulitzer

Pulitzer Prize Controversy

In 1977, the fiction jury recommended Norman MacLean’s A River Runs Through It, but the Pulitzer Board decided against this recommendation. Ultimately, no Pulitzer Prize was awarded in 1977.

In 1974, the fiction jury recommended Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow. The board, however, decided that there would be no winner.

In 1971, no award was issued. The fiction jury narrowed the selection process down to three books: Eudora Welty’s Losing Battles, Saul Bellow’s Mr. Sammler’s Planet, and Joyce Carol Oates’s The Wheel of Love. Ultimately, the board decided that none of these novels were good enough.

In 1957, the fiction jury recommended Elizabeth Spencer’s The Voice at the Back Door. The board makes the ultimate decision, and it instead, decided that there would be no winner.

In 1952, Herman Wouk's The Caine Mutiny won the Pulitzer. It certainly is a good book, but controversy lingers. Should it have beat Catcher in the Rye or From Here to Eternity? Obviously, this was a great year in American literature. Ultimately, all three books deserve mention, because all three are fine books.

In 1941, the fiction jury recommended Ernest Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls. The president of Columbia University, Nocholas Murray Butler, argued that the novel was offensive, and ultimately, no award was issued that year. In today’s era, the book would surely have won the Pulitzer Prize. Back then, however, the social norms were quite different.

In 1927, Lois Bromfield won the Pulitzer for Early Autumn. At the time, it probably wasn't that controversial. In retrospect, one has to wonder if it really should have beat The Sun Also Rises, a far, far superior book.

In 1926, Sinclair Lewis won with Arrowsmith. Sinclair Lewis declined the award. Interestingly, Arrowsmith is often considered the weakest of his major novels. That being said, it is a good book. Additional controversy enters into the equation when you consider the books that it beat. Even if you overlook Maugham’s The Painted Veil, Ford’s No More Parades, and Dresier’s American Tragedy, it still leaves you with a tough decision. Should Arrowsmith have beat The Great Gatsby?

There was no fiction prize in 1957, but the Pulitzer judges did bestow an honorary award to Kenneth Roberts for all of his historical novels, written between 1930 and 1956. Only one other novelist has won such an award. In 2007, Ray Bradbury (The Martian Chronicles, Fahrenheit 451) was honored with an honorary award. Additionally, Theodor Seuss Geisel, a.k.a. Dr. Seuss, received an honorary award in 1984.

Forgotten Pulitzer Classics

Unfortunately, winning the Pulitzer Prize isn't always a clear path to success. If it were, all of the Pulitzer novels would still be in print.  Unfortunately, that's not the case.  In reality, critical acclaim and sales figures are the two most popular ways to measure a book’s success, but they don’t usually support each other. Winning a prestigious award, like the Pulitzer Prize, can make a novelist’s literary standing. However, critical acclaim doesn't necessarily equate to sales. James Patterson has never won a Pulitzer Prize, and he probably never will.  His sales figures, however, undoubtedly reflect massive success. It’s rare for a novelist to win a Pulitzer. It’s also rare to be a best-selling novelist. Winning a Pulitzer and being a best-selling novelist is almost impossible.  Consequently, a growing number of winners, some quite good, have largely been overlooked by time.  We're hopeful that readers will consider reading some of these forgotten American classics.

Give a forgotten classic a chance! These are the Pulitzer Prize Winners that time forgot. Each is listed according to lack of sales and lack of notoriety. Ultimately, these are the Pulitzer novels that need a second chance. Let’s change this list by reading these books!

Guard of Honorby James Gould Cozzens - 1949

Advise and Consent by Allen Drury – 1960

Journey in the Darkby Martin Flavin - 1944

Now in November by Josephine Winslow Johnson - 1935

His Family by Ernest Poole - 1918

Early Autumnby Louis Bromfield - 1927

Scarlet Sister Maryby Julia Peterkin - 1929

Laughing Boyby Oliver Lafarge - 1930

Years of Graceby Margaret Ayer Barnes - 1931

The Storeby T.S. Stribling - 1933

Lamb in His Bosom by Caroline Miller - 1934

Honey in the Horn by Harold L. Davis - 1936

In This Our Life by Ellen Glasgow - 1942

The Town by Conrad Richter - 1951

Pulitzer Prize Winning Photography 1961-2007

Pulitzer Winners in the Classroom

There has long been a debate between phonics and whole language. Google “whole language”, and you’ll find almost 20,000,000 articles about the subject. Google “phonics’, and you’ll find almost 9,000,000 articles. Google “novels”, and you’ll find over 81,000,000 articles!

There are numerous opposing beliefs when it comes to teaching reading. Ultimately, regardless of how a child is taught to read, the reading material largely dictates his/her interest level. Can anybody truly be interested in the reading material contained in most reading texts? At what point is a child’s interest level as important as the method in which they are being taught to read? In my twenty years of teaching, I’ve found that the single best way to improve in reading is to read. I know that sounds simple, but it’s true. The problem with reading texts is that they really don’t provide a lot of reading opportunities that are interesting, so students never read from them on their own. Novels, on the other hand, are far more engaging and tend to motivate students to read both in groups and independently. As a result, I highly recommend novel reading over text reading when it comes to increasing student interest.

Selecting Pulitzer Prize Winners in the Classroom

It’s easy to overlook the value of Pulitzer Prize books within the classroom, because many consider them appropriate for adults only, both in reading level and content. Consequently, Pulitzer Prize books tend to be overlooked by teachers, and few of these books are regularly used within the classroom. There are a few exceptions. To Kill a Mockingbird and a few select books are commonly used, but the vast majority of Pulitzer books are entirely overlooked. This is truly unfortunate, because Pulitzer books are among the best and most appropriate for the classroom.

Before selecting Pulitzer books for any class, one needs to remember that most books, including Pulitzer books, are written between a 5th and 10th grade level. Few books go above or below these grade levels. To Kill a Mockingbird, for example, is rated at 5th grade, and Gone with the Wind is rated at 7th grade. This doesn’t mean, however, that these are appropriate for these grade levels. Further, it doesn’t mean that students will actually understand what they are reading. It only means that students will be able to fluently read the material. The concepts may be too advanced, as is the case with both To Kill a Mockingbird and Gone with the Wind. Consequently, one has to consider content too. Basically, as a general rule, every Pulitzer book is appropriate for the following:

7th grade gifted

8th grade gifted

9th grade

10th grade

11th grade

12th grade

Some of the books, such as The Old Man and the Sea, are fine for lower grades, often as low as fourth grade, but care must be taken in selecting appropriate material that will interest young readers and be appropriate for them.

Ultimately, it is our hope that educators will both continue to use Pulitzer winners and begin to incorporate even more winners into their plans. If you're looking for a great American novel to read with your class, look no futher.  These books won for a reason. They truly are among the greatest books of the 20th century, so enjoy!

Please Leave a Comment!

By creating this site, we're hopeful that it will become a working forum for people to discuss Pulitzer Prize novels and ultimately celebrate the genius behind them.  Please help us make this forum a success by leaving a comment about any of the Pulitzer books or authors.  Also, please don't forget to vote for your favorite book. 

In an effort to improve this site, we would like to, once again, encourage visitors to leave book reviews and any comments that may be helpful for others that may wish to select books from this list. Most of all, we hope you enjoy these novels. They truly are among the best novels ever written. Enjoy!

What is the Best Pulitzer Prize Winner?

What is the best Pulitzer Prize winning novel?

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Pulitzer Prize


Please let us know what you think about these novels or this site.

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    • arizonataylor profile image

      arizonataylor 5 years ago from Arizona

      Thank you so much. I do love reading, and I appreciate your kind words.

    • marwan asmar profile image

      Marwan Asmar 5 years ago from Amman, Jordan

      Your effort is appreciated. These are valuable novels that should be read. In highlighting them you show not only touches of love for these novels but for the prize. I also think this hub should be look at time and again. Voted Up.

    • arizonataylor profile image

      arizonataylor 6 years ago from Arizona

      I'll have to rethink the rating on The Stone Diaries. Maybe it needs to be lower in value.

      Best wishes.

    • Pamela Kinnaird W profile image

      Pamela Kinnaird W 6 years ago from Maui and Arizona

      Thank you for telling me about the Booker Prize. I have wondered for a long time how to get a hold of some good UK titles without wasting too much time. And yes, it does sound like a good topic for a hub. I hope you consider it.

    • arizonataylor profile image

      arizonataylor 6 years ago from Arizona

      That’s a great question. I’m not real familiar with the prize, but I would look into the Booker Prize. I believe it’s an award for the best fiction within the UK and the Commonwealth, an equivalent to the Pulitzer. While it hasn’t been around for nearly as long, it’s a very prestigious award. I believe it was started in 1969, so there should be a lot of great material. This sounds like a great future hub. Thanks!

    • Pamela Kinnaird W profile image

      Pamela Kinnaird W 6 years ago from Maui and Arizona

      Hello again. I've spent some time looking over the titles and reading reviews of the stories. Thank you again for your work on this. It's been enlightening. I'm wondering if you know whether the United Kingdom has a list or a Pullitzer Prize, something where the best books written of the last six decades could be found. (Books with settings in Scotland, Ireland, Wales or England.) Thanks.

    • Pamela Kinnaird W profile image

      Pamela Kinnaird W 6 years ago from Maui and Arizona

      I've looked up The Killer Angels on Wikipedia as you suggested the title. It does look interesting! I do have a thousand unread books here unpacked, in boxes, which I've yet to read so I've made a deal with myself not to buy any for quite sometime. I did, however, watch America, Liberty! the excellent two-part drama available on Netflix. It's based on diaries and letters. It was very good, but, of course, didn't take the talent and time involved in the writing of The Killer Angels.

      By the way, I see Stone Diaries on your last list. The Stone Diaries is the book that put me off novels. It was in 1994 or 1995. The author is from British Columbia. I picked up the book in a bookstore and stood there reading it. I was amazed at the garbage in it and more amazed by the so-called critical acclaim it acquired. I thought to myself, "If this is what good writing is supposed to be in this day and age -- no thanks." Sorry for my negativism. I'm not usually negative.

    • arizonataylor profile image

      arizonataylor 6 years ago from Arizona

      Thank you for your kind words. Isn't it amazing what a great author can do? Have you read The Killer Angels? Based on the books you like, I wonder if this book might be a good fit.

      Best wishes.

    • Pamela Kinnaird W profile image

      Pamela Kinnaird W 6 years ago from Maui and Arizona

      This must have taken you a year to create. It's an amazing article you've written. I'm going to look over the 1940's and 50's titles of books to see if I can find a few to read. Twenty years ago or so, I did read Breathing Lessons by Ann Tyler at the behest of a writing professor. It was one of the most boring books I'd ever read and yet -- just as the professor said -- the author was so skilled at creating the characters that I remembered them for years.

      I'm not much for novels. I like facts -- history, biographies -- but I will be looking into some of these titles.

      Mahalo nui loa.

    • John Sarkis profile image

      John Sarkis 6 years ago from Los Angeles, CA

      Great hub - this is one of the most interesting hubs I've ever read!... Thanks

    • arizonataylor profile image

      arizonataylor 6 years ago from Arizona

      Thank you. The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love will be the first book I add to my readers' poll. Best wishes.

    • profile image

      ed77burns 6 years ago

      The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love by Oscar Hijuelos Love this novel.Lovely hub for Novel lovers like me.