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ASU grad wins Pulitzer for fiction

April 21, 2013

For his story of a North Korean man with a rough past, Arizona State University alumnus Adam Johnson has won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. The award for his novel, "The Orphan Master's Son," was announced April 15.

The Pulitzer winner discovered his passion for writing as an undergraduate student at Arizona State University. Johnson received his BA in Journalism from the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication in 1992.

Originally enrolled as a journalism major, he found he didn't want the facts to interfere with telling a good story; Johnson enrolled in his first creative writing class and began using the skills he'd been cultivating all his life.

"As a young man, I was often told that I was a daydreamer, a rubbernecker, an exaggerator," he said in a 2011 interview with ASU Magazine. "But in a fiction class, all the things I had been criticized about came together to create something meaningful. That was a very powerful feeling for me."

Johnson received the prestigious Whiting Writers' Award in 2009 – an honor given to 10 young writers annually who exhibit "extraordinary talent and promise." He also is the author of the short story collection "Emporium" and the novel "Parasites Like Us."

"Some people say my stories are weird, but they feel perfectly normal to me," Johnson said. "The world is a dark, humorous, strange place.

"The surfaces of my stories can be outlandish or simple. They're just the vessels for the heart that I hope I'm communicating. It doesn't matter if it takes place on another planet or in a zoo. It's what happening between the people inside that matters."

Arizona Republic writer Kerry Lengel reported that Johnson's mother, Scottsdale psychologist Patricia Johnson, said the prize came as a surprise.

"I was doing e-mail when the Google Alert came in," she told Lengel. "I called him and said, 'I had to learn about the Pulitzer from the Internet?' He said, 'Mom, that's how I found out. They don't give you any advance notice.'"

Editor's Note: Excerpts of this story were taken from Tracy Mueller's article that appeared in the March 2011 edition of ASU Magazine.