The first sentence in the Pulitzer winners of the last 10 years

Start with a bang, indeed.

Linda Caroll
Dec 5, 2019 · 4 min read

Good writing should start strong…

Sometimes they just say start with a bang. Or they suggest you chop the first paragraph. So many first paragraphs are slow. Or they say the first sentence only exists to get you to read the next one.

It’s true. Of course, the second sentence has one job, too…

To get you to read the next one. And it goes on that way, all the way through. Each sentence should make the reader want to keep on reading. And so it goes, sentence by sentence. Line by line.

Bird by bird, buddy. Bird by bird.

— Anne Lamott

I think a book has a little more leeway

Essays, maybe not so much. Online, even less.
Too easy to click away, close the tab. Bored, done.

But it got me wondering. Did Pulitzer prize winning authors start with a bang? Do they start strong?

So I dug into the Pulitzer winners for the last 10 years with fingers crossed the rule would hold up. That they wouldn’t start out droll and boring and win a darn Pulitzer for inflicting that upon the reader.

For your writing inspiration…

The first sentence in Pulitzer prize winning books from the last 10 years.

1. Pulitzer Winner, 2019

2. Pulitzer Winner, 2018

3. Pulitzer Winner, 2017

4. Pulitzer Winner, 2016

5. Pulitzer Winner, 2015

6. Pulitzer Winner, 2014

7. Pulitzer Winner, 2013

8. Pulitzer Winner, 2012

9. Pulitzer Winner, 2011

10. Pulitzer Winner, 2010

My opinion? They did not disappoint.

As promised, the year of no Pulitzer…

First, a jury is selected. Members of the jury read 300+ books and have to mutually agree on 3 finalists, which are then submitted to the board. The board selects the winner from the 3 submitted by the jury. Except the year they didn’t, of course.

The hard part is on the jury. How do you cull a list of 300+ books down to 3? Apparently, according to one of the jurors, it’s not that hard.

A lot of them, you will not be surprised to hear, were fairly easy to dismiss. They were trivial, or badly written, or lurid, or overblown, or mawkish —

I found it interesting. One book was dismissed because it was very similar in plot to a Toni Morrison book, but Toni told the story better. Many were judged as excellent reads, but too “lightweight” to be of consideration.

In the long run, despite that the jurors agreed on the 3 final entries, the board did not think any of the entries was strong enough to be awarded the Pulitzer. So none was awarded.

If you’re interested, you can read a letter from one of the jurors about the Pulitzer selection process here.

If you’re interested in writing or marketing, you may enjoy my Friday emails. Check out the back issues free at

The Partnered Pen

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Linda Caroll

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Design and marketing. Get writing and marketing tips on Fridays at

The Partnered Pen

MPP friends writing about life, love, and everything else in between together.

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