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Victor, Victor

Proving They've Got the Write Stuff, a Young Playwright and a Veteran Novelist Win Pulitzers

“I Was outside the theater and there was this spontaneous party. We were just huggin’ and drinkin’ champagne, and it dawned on me: I might be the only woman who has won this award who can dance.” Of course, Suzan-Lori Parks is far more than that. When the 38-year-old playwright twirled in 8-inch platform heels in front of Manhattan’s Ambassador Theatre, home to her play Topdog/Underdog, she did so as the first African-American woman to win a Pulitzer Prize for Drama. The award was won for her dazzling two-man show starring Jeffrey Wright and Mos Def as brothers struggling with family, race, and the brute hand of history. “I’m happy!…My head is going to swell so big I won’t be able to get out of a cab!” she laughs. “But can’t let that happen. I gotta write tomorrow.”

“My poor wife,” chuckles 52-year-old novelist Richard Russo, remembering her “tears of where-the-hell-is-he” when he returned home late from the tennis court on April 8. She’d been saddled with a frenetically ringing phone for 20 minutes as word spread that Russo’s big tale of a ragged mill town, Empire Falls, had just beaten Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections for this year’s Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. “Paul Newman called, because he’s producing Empire Falls for HBO,” he says. “But I wasn’t there!” His hearty laughter indicates he’s yet to feel any newfound pressure. “I suspect that if I didn’t have 75 pages of a new book written, [this prize] might have a paralyzing effect,” he says. “But this [new book] I already feel very deeply about…and it may just be my salvation.”