Rebecca Makkai, alumna of ’95, named as Pulitzer Prize Finalist

Rachel Johns, Staff Writer


Rebecca Makkai, alumna of the class of ‘95, was a Finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. This year she received this award for her latest novel, The Great Believers.

The novel follows two storylines, one set in modern day Paris and the other in 1980s Chicago, and follows the AIDS epidemic and its effects.

It was praised by critics and received many other accolades. The Great Believers was a finalist for the National Book Award. It also won two awards from The American Library Association: The Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction and the Stonewall Barbara Gittings Literature Award. The novel won a Book Award from The LA Times, and it was named one of the top ten books of of 2018 by The New York Times.

The Pulitzer Prize is a prestigious award given to writers for excellence in journalism, music, and literature. Each year there is one winner and two other finalists. The winner of this year’s Pulitzer Prize for Fiction was The Overstory by Richard Powers. Makkai was one of two finalists, the other finalist being Tommy Orange for his novel There There.

Makkai is the first Lake Forest Academy alumni to be a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.

Ruth Keyso, Director of Alumni Engagement, said “The award is a tremendous honor, not only for Rebecca, but also by extension– LFA. The entire Caxy community joins me in praising her accomplishments.”

Makkai said she was thrilled to be a finalist after all her hard work.

The Great Believers took Makkai 4 years to write, while she simultaneously did research for it. It was through this research that her novel came to be as it is now. Initially, the book started out as the story of a Parisian artist’s model in the 1920s, which is now a subplot.

“I realized while researching that there was next to no information about the AIDS crisis in Chicago where it hit very hard. It became a passion project. I wanted to do justice and honor these real life experiences,” Makkai said during our interview.

According to Makkai, LFA played an important role in inspiring her to be writer. Makkai said, “It [LFA] is the place where I got my first encouragement in my writing and where I decided to be a writer.”

She credits her supportive English teachers, Poets and Writers Club, and the opportunity to publish her writing in the Literary Magazine as key factors in her decision to be a writer.

Makkai had Mr. David Wicke as her senior year creative writing teacher. She said that “He got us constantly writing. His class was a great generative class.”

When asked what advice she has for aspiring writers at the Academy, she said that it is important to read, writer and finds supportive community. Most notably she said that aspiring writers should get involved in theater.  Makkai said “There’s nothing that will teach you more about story structure, character, and dialogue than living in the same story night after night, whether you’re on stage or off stage.”