By Patrick McArdle, Rutland Herald
BENNINGTON, VT – Bennington College already has a reputation as a place for some of the strongest and most original voices in literature and this year, two of the six prizes for the Pulitzer Prize in literature, announced Monday, went to Bennington College alumni.
Donna Tartt, a member of the Class of 1986, won the prize for fiction for her novel The Goldfinch.
In a review for The New York Times printed in October, novelist Stephen King said Tartt had “delivered an extraordinary work of fiction.”
“The Goldfinch is a rarity that comes along perhaps half a dozen times per decade, a smartly written novel that connects with the heart as well as the mind. I read it with that mixture of terror and excitement I feel watching a pitcher carry a no-hitter into the late innings. You keep waiting for the wheels to fall off, but in the case of The Goldfinch, they never do,” King wrote.
Tartt is also well known for her first novel, The Secret History, published in 1992, which has a number of references, direct and indirect, to the town of Bennington and the College.
Megan Marshall, a member of the Class of 1975, was awarded the prize for biography for Margaret Fuller: A New American Life which the jury described as “a richly researched book” about a “19th-century author, journalist, critic and pioneering advocate of women’s rights who died in a shipwreck.”
Bennington had other connections to the Pulitzers. Composer John Luther Adams, a former faculty member at the College, won the Pulitzer for music this year for his orchestral composition, Become Ocean. Bob Shacochis, a writer-in-residence for the College’s Writing Seminars, was a finalist for fiction this year for his novel, The Woman Who Lost Her Soul.
The recognition for Bennington graduates was meaningful for current students.
Julian Delacruz, a senior who plans to graduate this year with a concentration in literature, said all of the students he had met at the college felt a connection with Tartt, especially because of the setting of The Secret History.
“We are usually impressed by how accurately, beautifully, and hauntingly she has been able to portray on-campus life. Overall, Bennington College is a tight-knit community that takes pride in all of its members’ achievements, past and present. Tartt’s Pulitzer win is validating for those of us who study creative writing here,” Delacruz said in an email.
Jeva Lange, a junior at the college who also has a concentration in literature, said the awards give her a “sense of confidence for attending college here.”
“I think sometimes that little voice in your head can get to you, saying, ‘It’s such a small school. Is it really going to set you up for the future the way you hope it will?’ Events like this huge Pulitzer dismiss those insecurities. Bennington is one of the best colleges in the world to study literature, and our track record shows it,” she said.
Lange called it “sort of my little secret” that she hopes to earn her place among a group that includes Tartt, Bret Easton Ellis '86, Jonathan Lethem '86 and faculty member Tracy K. Smith, who won a Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 2012.
Lange said it was also inspiring to see female names on the list.
“In this day and age, you hear a lot of talk about the male-dominated field of literature. So to be a young woman in college with that sort of daunting future ahead of you, I think Tartt and Marshall’s wins are encouraging not just for Bennington students but for female writers across the board,” she said.
Brooke Allen, who teaches literature at Bennington College, said she hadn’t had a chance to read either Tartt’s or Marshall’s books yet but said she believes both will serve her department and the students.
“Our technique in teaching writing here is as least as much if not more about reading. To be a good writer you have to be a hell of a reader and we really stress that. I think the kids come out of their four years here with a real broad education on literature of every era. It’s very gratifying to see how well these kids do when they come out,” she said.