Crikey reporter Jane Nethercote writes:

Having children can have interesting side benefits – for Australian writer Geraldine Brooks, it’s a Pulitzer Prize.

In 2004, Brooks, who’s just won the fiction section of the Pulitzer Prize for March, told Crikey’s associated publication The Reader that her move from foreign correspondence to fiction was “really driven by the arrival of my son”. It was a way of being on my own schedule rather than the foreign desk’s”.

But
it seemed a risky decision at the time. Fiction was “a chance I took
without knowing whether or not I would be able to do it”, she said. “So
far so good, I guess.”

Indeed. By then Brooks, who’d worked for the Sydney Morning Herald and as a foreign correspondent for 11 years, had two non-fiction works under her belt – Nine Parts of Desire and Foreign Correspondence – as well as a novel, Year of Wonders. And March was on the way.

It’s not hard to see why March would appeal so strongly to Americans, drawing as it does on Louisa May Alcott’s classic Little Women. Brooks extrapolates from the beloved novel, fleshing out the girls’ absent father figure – or as The New Yorker calls him, “a thirty-nine-year-old vegetarian preacher from Massachusetts” – who was at war throughout Alcott’s tale.

March received some pretty high praise from pretty high places when it came out – according to The New Yorker, it expertly captures “the speech and attitudes of the time, forms an ingenious counterpoint to Alcott’s.” John Freeman wrote in The Wall StreetJournal that “it feels honourable, elegant and true – an adult coda to the plangent idealism of Little Women.”

With
her Pulitzer, Brooks, whose dual American citizenship made her eligible
for the prize, joins some pretty high company, with the likes of Ernest
Hemingway and Harper Lee also on the list.

Peter Fray

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