Pulitzer Project reaches halfway point

Leona Charleigh Holman has officially reached the halfway point in her year-long Pulitzer Project and said her overall goal has irreversibly changed compared to when she started.

Holman said she is officially 44 books down, with another 45 to go. The project so far does not include this year’s Pulitzer winner.

“What I am reading is more than a checklist,” Holman said.

In particular, she said books like the Orphan Master’s Son has “left an impression on my psyche,” leading her to the conclusion that literary fiction is more like a series of forgotten memoirs.

“It shows how history affected people in the real world,” she said. “They are fictional characters, but you know it is grounded in truth.”

Another book that illustrated her point is a book that showcased the lives of Vietnamese people during the Vietnam War, both the good and the bad.

“As a reader, I am becoming more empathetic to the characters,” Holman said.

She said these “hidden memoirs” can bear added weight when used to reflect on actual history, which she said often repeats.

“You can look at fiction and read these memoirs of how history affected the person in real life. Not everyone can go to the [Mexico-America] border, but everyone can open a book.”

She said this reading project has also shaped her abilities as a writer.

“It has helped me find my own voice,” Holman said. “I have to turn off the self-critique and realize I am being brought to the book to learn.”

She said a “lofty” project that started as simply finishing items on a list has evolved into a complex dive into not just history but writing as an art form.

“I am genuinely surprised by every book I open,” she said. “I am open to the story and where it will take me.”

Some stories have been light-hearted and funny, while some she said “causes a lump in the throat.” Further, she said she prefers reading in this way, which was a surprise.

“I did not know I was hoping for that,” Holman said.

For others who might be interested in pursuing such a project in the future, she said they need to consider what she herself has learned.

“If you are going to do that, you have to be open for the experience,” Holman said.

The Pulitzer Project’s next meeting is this evening at 5:30 at the Elizabethton/Carter County Library. This month’s meeting will feature a 20-question quiz on Kitridge’s work.

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