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PS Picks: The Exceptional Runners-Up for This Year's Pulitzer Prize for Feature Writing

PS Picks is a selection of the best things that the magazine's staff and contributors are reading, watching, or otherwise paying attention to in the worlds of art, politics, and culture.
Outside of the journalism building at Columbia University where the Pulitzer Prizes are announced.

Outside of the journalism building at Columbia University where the Pulitzer Prizes are announced.

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Lost Ones: The Pulitzer Prizes were awarded recently. Whenever prestigious awards are given out, I never think about the winners. I always think about the ones that come close, but don't quite make it. In terms of Pulitzers, any finalist is clearly a great piece of writing—it wouldn't get there if it weren't. But, who thinks back to the finalists, instead of the winners? Do these pieces have any less value? Does not being the one winner take away the inherent quality of a top piece of writing, of art? I'd like to think not. If so, a lot of us are in trouble.

This year, the features writing category of the Pulitzers was very strong. Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah's mesmerizing dive in GQ into the haunting radicalization of Dylann Roof, the terrorist who murdered nine black parishioners in South Carolina's Emmanuel AME church, is an undeniably deserving winner of the highest honor in journalism. But upon hearing of the winner, I was curious: What about the other pieces up for the top spot? Norimitsu Onishi's New York Times portrait of two elderly Japanese people readying themselves to die, without family or friends around, is a beautifully sparse piece of writing. These two people live in a sprawling apartment complex that once symbolized the energy and vigor of a young up-and-coming nation, but that now stands as a monument to the isolation of an aging population that has lost all of the connections that moor us to this world. And it poses the most difficult question in this life: When you're faced with death, what will you hold onto in order to keep going?