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15 Minute Pulitzer: 1968, to controversy and beyond

by Craig B | Nov 16, 2016
Cover for William Styron's novel, The Confessions of Nat TurnerBook Review:  The Confessions of Nat Turner by William Styron
 

I had never read a William Styron book before and mostly only knew his name because of his very long novel, Sophie's Choice.  (Okay, it’s only something over 500 pages, but still…)  Styron’s Pulitzer Prize-winner of 1968, The Confessions of Nat Turner, isn't quite that long (it’s only nearly 500 pages) but it is still a difficult book in many ways. 

Based on a 20 page primary document published after the 1831 slave revolt in Virginia led by Nat Turner, there is much in Styron’s novel that he was forced to fabricate.  This challenge doesn’t seem to have phased Styron too much.  In fact it seems it may have invigorated him, giving Styron what he may have seen as an opportunity to creatively explore an understanding of a very difficult occurrence in American history. 

The rightness or wrongness of Styron’s actions I will leave to the individual reader.  The controversy over his book has a long history dating from immediately after its publication when James Baldwin is credited as saying, “Bill’s going to catch it from both sides.”  And Styron did; “catch it,” that is.  It didn’t seem to slow him down too much, though.  He went on to write Sophie’s Choice.  Have I mentioned how long that book is?

2 comments

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  1. cbailey | Nov 26, 2016
    Some people felt that Styron's portrayal of many of the characters lent credit to racial stereotypes and some other people were assumedly very uncomfortable with what can be read as a sympathetic telling of a lot of people dying.  Wikipedia's entry on the book and on Styron himself has more details about the controversy.
  2. Cathy Blyth | Nov 23, 2016

    Why does he catch it from both sides?

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