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Adam Johnson, who graduated from McNeese State in 1996, was awarded the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for fiction for his novel '''The Orphan Master’s Son,'' which is set in North Korea. (Associated Press)

Adam Johnson, who graduated from McNeese State in 1996, was awarded the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for fiction for his novel '''The Orphan Master’s Son,'' which is set in North Korea. (Associated Press)

Editorial: Alumnus’ Pulitzer a victory for McNeese

Last Modified: Tuesday, April 30, 2013 9:26 AM

The news wasn’t accompanied by adoring fans or a band belting out Jolie Blonde or back-flipping cheerleaders.

But that shouldn’t detract from the accomplishment of McNeese State University alumnus Adam Johnson, who won the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for fiction.

Johnson, a 1996 graduate of the university’s Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing, won for his novel, “The Orphan Master’s Son.” The Pulitzer committee said Johnson’s book was an “exquisitely crafted novel that carries the reader on an adventuresome journey into the depths of totalitarian North Korea and into the most intimate spaces of the human heart.”

Johnson, now an associate professor of English at Stanford University, researched his book for several years, reading historical accounts, propaganda and narratives of a handful of people who had defected.

“...One of the things I discovered through my research is that most North Koreans can’t tell their story. It’s important for others to hear it, though. So I had a sense of mission to speak about the topic,” Johnson told the Stanford News.

The Pulitzer is just the latest in a long list of achievements for Johnson. He was named a 2013 Guggenheim Fellow in Creative Arts for Fiction, earning the honor based on “impressive achievement in the past and exceptional promise for future accomplishment.” He has also been the recipient of a Swarthout Writing Award, a Kingsbury Fellowship, a Stegner Fellowship, a Whiting Writers’ Award and a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship.

His works have been published in Esquire, Harper’s, Playboy, Paris Review, The New York Times and Best American Short Stories.

Johnson’s other books include the “Emporium,” a short-story collection, and the novel, “Parasites Like Us.”

Former McNeese Master of Fine Arts in creative writing professor Robert Olen Butler, himself a winner of the Pulitzer Prize for fiction, praised his pupil’s work ethic and “his ravenous engagement with life experience and an ever-deepening wisdom about the human condition.”

“I am proud of Adam,” Butler said. “And I am proud of the McNeese creative writing program, which remains one of the finest in the country.”

Johnson’s award is but another victory for McNeese’s MFA creative writing program. Last fall, Poets & Writers magazine ranked McNeese’s program No. 24 in the country, ahead of such programs as Ole Miss, Purdue University, Columbia University and Boston University.

Imagine the excitement in Southwest Louisiana if one of McNeese’s athletic teams was ranked ahead of those universities. That likely says something about our society and what we hold dear when it comes to higher education.

Regardless, McNeese’s creative writing program, which was established in 1981, has compiled an remarkable tradition, one that the university’s administration, faculty, students and alums can point to with pride.

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This editorial was written by a member of the American Press Editorial Board. Its content reflects the collaborative opinion of the Board, whose members include Bobby Dower, Jim Beam, Crystal Stevenson and Donna Price.

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