Berkeley Writer Wins Pulitzer Prize for Fiction
Tuesday, April 17, 2001
Berkeley author Michael Chabon, whose novel-turned-movie "Wonder Boys" recently won Oscar accolades, chalked up another distinction yesterday when he was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in fiction.
Chabon received the award for his book "The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay," a mid-century tale of comic books and superheroes.
"Did I really win? I had kind of figured it was not my year," he told the Associated Press after hearing the news. "My goodness, this is very exciting."
The 37-year-old author was so pessimistic about his chances of
winning a book prize-let alone literature's top prize-that he had resorted to listing awards he had lost on his Web site.
"I've never been nominated for anything before," he told the wire services. "I'm just delighted. My jaw is sore from smiling so much."
Chabon found the inspiration for "Kavalier and Clay" in a box of old comic books that had been in his possession for 15 years. Set in the 1930s and 1950s, the novel celebrates the golden age of adventure comic books through two characters who complement one another.
"It took four years, four months and four days," he said. "There were other things that came up during that time. But it was my main focus."
"Kavalier & Clay" hit bookstore shelves last year with much fanfare.
"(It) proves to be a comic epic, generously optimistic about the human struggle for personal liberation," said the New York Times Book Review last fall.
Chabon also spent recent months working on a television pilot script for TNT, called "Telegraph Avenue," about two families-one white, one black-living in Oakland and Berkeley. But according to his Web site, the project "looks to be pretty much dead."
Chabon became more prominent after the movie version of "Wonder Boys" was released last year, featuring such stars as Michael Douglas and Tobey Maguire.
It immediately won critical acclaim and was nominated for three Academy Awards at last month's ceremony, including best screenplay based on previous material. The only award the movie won, however, was for best song, which went to Bob Dylan.
As with "Wonder Boys," Chabon is now in the process of turning "Kavalier & Clay" into a major motion picture for Paramount Studios. He is also working on a children's novel, titled "Summerland."
Chabon lives in Berkeley with his wife, mystery novelist Ayelet Waldman, and their two young children.
At Berkeley's Kehilla Community Synagogue, where Chabon sits on the board of directors, the news of Chabon's Pulitzer was surprising-but not entirely unexpected. One staffer described Chabon as humorous, witty, and a "nice, sweet, generous person-not at all uppity."
People interested in Berkeley's literary scene say Chabon's Pulitzer will add to the city's reputation as a writer's town. Other noteworthy writers who have been inspired by this city include beat poets Allen Ginsberg and Gary Snyder, who also won Pulitzers.
Cody's Books owner Andy Ross said the city's unique intellectual atmosphere fosters writers to explore new ideas. Most other parts of the country, he said, do not inspire writers to compose works in the same way Berkeley does.
"It's the next best thing to New York," he said. "It's a very intellectually stimulating place and writers, I think, like to be with other writers. They like to talk to other writers. They care about ideas. They need that kind of thing."
Ross added that many writers are attracted to Berkeley because of the university-a university town, he says, like no other.
"Most other university towns aren't that interesting," he said.
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