Tuesday, April 19, 2016

A Surfing Life and A Pulitzer

Who would have ever imagined a surfer would win the Pulitzer Prize for a memoir about surfing? Surely no one, unless they have read William Finnegan's latest book, Barbarian Days, A Surfing Life, (Penguin Press), or his career-changing 1992 two-part New Yorker article, Playing Doc's Games, about a daring league of surfers in San Francisco, led by one particularly extreme surfer known as "Doc". That piece is still on many reader's short list as "the best piece of surf writing, ever". Disclaimer here: William (Bill) Finnegan is my first cousin and I have been a true fan throughout his long, distinguished career. As a staff writer at The New Yorker for nearly three decades, he has traveled the world covering political conflicts, racism, neo-nazi gangs, and social injustices with a courageous fly-on-the-wall spirit. He has published four previous books on such gritty topics as apartheid in South Africa, a civil war in Mozambique and troubled teens in America at the intersection of poverty and drugs. As the years went by, he continued his reluctance to come out of the closet and reveal his fierce devotion to surfing—which ironically is what helped pave his less-traveled path into a career of serious journalism. Surfing, has always been considered to be a self-indulgent sport relegated to those who were less concerned with sentence structure than with the formation of waves. And in Bill's mind, surfing is far less a sport than a beautiful addiction.

In yesterday's announcement for the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Biography, the committee announced Barbarian Days was chosen "for a finely crafted memoir of a youthful obsession that has propelled the author through a distinguished writing career". Bill has always navigated his own path, and eventually found himself through his devotion of surfing. His win is a validation for him and all who choose to bravely explore their own passions despite missteps and challenges. I am so proud of him for writing his tales of wave-seeking adventures and I am thrilled he has now been recognized by a peer group of scholars, poets, journalists and critics who fully agree he is also a serious writer of surfing. And you don't have to be a surfer or anywhere near water to enjoy this book! 

Above: Finnegan surfing Cloudbreak in Fiji in 2005. Photo credit at top goes to Barbarian Days publisher, Penguin Press, via Instagram. The other two photos are credited to William Finnegan.

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