"Next to Normal," a musical about the complexity and heartbreak of a woman's mental illness and its effect on her family, has won the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for drama.

Paul Harding's "Tinkers," a debut novel released by the tiny Bellevue Literary Press, was the surprise fiction winner. Harding, who writes of an old New Englander looking back on his life, is the former drummer of Cold Water Flat, and started the book a decade ago while the band was on hiatus.

A book about the financial crisis, Liaquat Ahamed's "Lords of Finance: The Bankers Who Broke the World," won for history, while a narrative about a 19th-century financial lord, T.J. Stiles' "The First Tycoon: The Epic Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt," was the biography winner. Another timely book, "The Dead Hand: The Untold Story of the Cold War Arms Race and Its Dangerous Legacy," by David E. Hoffman, won for general nonfiction.

A posthumous Special Citation was given to Hank Williams for his "craftsmanship as a songwriter who expressed universal feelings with poignant simplicity and played a pivotal role in transforming country music into a major musical and cultural force in American life."

Williams died Jan. 1, 1953, at the age of 29, cutting short a career that forever changed country music. Hits such as "Your Cheatin' Heart," "Cold Cold Heart" and "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry" have been rerecorded by hundreds of musicians and, more than 50 years after his death, he remains a central figure in country music.

Other winners announced by Columbia University on Monday were: "Versed," by Rae Armantrout, for poetry, and Violin Concerto by Jennifer Higdon, for music.

"Everybody can relate to what we wrote about," said Tom Kitt, the composer of "Next to Normal."

"Even though the score is based mostly in rock, I try to write emotional music for the appropriate moment."

Brian Yorkey, who wrote the show's book and lyrics, agreed.

"While I am really flattered when people say we have changed the form of musicals, I don't know if that is true. Certainly, the show is adventurous," Yorkey said. "But, ironically, the other side is that this is a show about real people and what they are going through, exploring their pains and also their joys on a level that musicals don't often do."

"Next to Normal" began life more than 10 years ago as a 10-minute musical, a class project for Yorkey and Kitt at the BMI Lehman Engel Musical Theatre Workshop. One night, Yorkey was watching a television report on shock therapy or ECT (electroconvulsive therapy) and was intrigued by something said on the program: The vast majority of patients who receive ECT are women and the majority of doctors who prescribe it are men.

Out of that idea, the show was born. It went through various incarnations, first in 2005 at the New York Musical Theatre Festival (NYMF), where it attracted the attention of producer David Stone, and then three years later at off-Broadway's Second Stage Theatre.

Stone, one of the producers of "Wicked," took the musical to Washington's Arena Stage for more reworking in November 2008 before bringing the show back to New York. The $4 million production opened at Broadway's Booth Theatre in April 2009, where it is still playing. It won three Tony Awards, including a best score prize for Yorkey and Kitt.

"Next to Normal" is the eighth musical to win the Pulitzer Prize for drama. The first was "Of Thee I Sing" in 1932 and the last was "Rent" in 1996.
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National Writer Hillel Italie in New York and Entertainment Writer Chris Talbott in Nashville, Tenn., contributed to this report.