The tale of a black slave owner by novelist Edward P Jones has been awarded the Pulitzer Prize for fiction.
Edward P Jones took 10 years to write his novel
Jones took 10 years to complete The Known World, losing his job as a magazine proofreader along the way.
Steven Hahn's book about the black
political struggle in the Deep South
won in the history category.
Two Soviet history books were rewarded, with Anne Applebaum's Gulag winning the non-fiction prize, along with William Taubaum's Kruschev biography.
The Pulitzer Prize for drama was awarded to Doug Wright for his play I Am My Own Wife.
It tells the tale of a real-life German transvestite who survived both the Nazis and Communists.
Wright said he was in a "state of disbelief" when he heard the news, directing a play in New York.
Fiction winner Jones took a decade to complete his book because of a slow writing style and having occasional days when he did not feel like writing.
Biography winner William Taubaum blamed history for the gradual progress of his book, which became a process of revisionism after the Soviet Union's collapse in 1991 and the opening of the archives.
"There is still so much to tell about the USSR," he said. "There are thousands of pages of archives which haven't been read."
Pulitzer also awards a number of prizes for journalism, and the Los Angeles Times scooped five prizes for their coverage of the wildfires that ravaged southern California last autumn.
It was the second biggest haul of awards for a newspaper in Pulitzer history.
Joseph Pulitzer was a Hungarian-born newspaper publisher in the US during the latter years of the 19th Century.
The first prizes were bestowed in his honour in 1917, with literature, music and poetry categories added in later years.