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Oklahoma City native Dan Fagin wins Pulitzer Prize for nonfiction

Bishop McGuinness graduate wins Pulitzer for his book, “Toms River: A Story of Science and Salvation.”
by Ken Raymond Published: April 20, 2014

Dan Fagin is the latest native Oklahoman to achieve literary greatness.

On Monday, he was named the winner of this year’s Pulitzer Prize for nonfiction for his book, “Toms River: A Story of Science and Salvation.”

The Pulitzer judges called it “a book that deftly combines investigative reporting and historical research to probe a New Jersey seashore town’s cluster of childhood cancers linked to water and air pollution.” It bested finalists “The Blood Telegram: Nixon, Kissinger and a Forgotten Genocide” by Gary J. Bass and “The Insurgents: David Petraeus and the Plot to Change the American Way of War” by Fred Kaplan.

Fagin, who now lives in Long Island, NY, was born in 1963 in Oklahoma City to parents Arnold and Lois Fagin. Arnold is a prominent family law attorney living in Edmond. Lois split from Arnold decades ago, remarried and died in 2008.

Dan Fagin was reared mostly in a Quail Creek home his parents had built when that part of northwest Oklahoma City was all but empty. He has an older brother and a younger sister.

He spent the eighth grade at Casady but finished his high school education at Bishop McGuinness, where he became close friends with a boy his own age. The two have stayed close all these years, following similar paths. The Oklahoman recently published an interview with Fagin’s friend — Blake Bailey — about his recent memoir, “The Splendid Things We Planned,” although Bailey is best known as a literary biographer.

Fagin attended Dartmouth, then took a job as a newspaper reporter in Florida before landing at Newsday in New York City, where he wrote mostly about the environment. In 2006, he took a job as a full-time professor and director of the science journalism program at New York University.

He is married to Alison Frankel, an online legal columnist for Reuters. They have two children: Anna Fagin, 22, who is a management consultant in New York City, and Lily Fagin, 20, a sophomore at Dartmouth.

Fagin, 51, spoke with The Oklahoman by phone on Tuesday, a day after he learned he’d won the Pulitzer. His comments have been edited for space.

Q: So you just found out you won the Pulitzer yesterday, is that right? How’d that play out for you?

A: I had no idea. I used to work in newsrooms. I was at Newsday for many years, and, you know, we were sometimes up for Pulitzer prizes. I was part of teams that were finalists twice before, and you would always hear when you were kind of in the running. But, of course, now that I’m a professor, and I either work in my office at NYU or work at home, I’m not really plugged in. I’m not in a position to hear about leaks from the Pulitzer committee that you are privy to in a giant newsroom.

So it was just a total bolt from the blue. I had actually forgotten that it was Pulitzer announcement day, but I was working in my (home) office and my wife was working across the way in her (home) office ... out in Long Island. She just shouted, “Dan, you won a Pulitzer!” I think we both thought that that couldn’t actually have been the case, and there was some kind of mistake or something, but I looked at the screen, and then I went to the official Pulitzer site, and I saw that there was “Toms River,” and it was an incredibly exciting moment.

Q: If I were ever so fortunate, the party would still be going on a month from now. How are your family and friends responding to the news?

A: Alison and I had our own party, and then we met some friends last night, some good friends here in our town. Of course, the thing about social media is that you sort of share these things with thousands of people, so there’s been a lot of that, too, over the last 24 hours. It’s been a lot of fun, honestly.

Q: Books like this aren’t written overnight. I imagine this took a lot of thought and effort and research, plus drafts and rewrites.

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by Ken Raymond
Book Editor
Ken Raymond is the book editor. He joined The Oklahoman in 1999. He has won dozens of state, regional and national writing awards. Three times he has been named the state's "overall best" writer by the Society of Professional Journalists. In...
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