"And the winner is..."
This year it’s a little different
Winning a Pulitzer is a big deal. The awards were created by journalist Joseph Pulitzer, a phenomenal force in the world of journalism during the first half of the 20th century. Pulitzer was a Hungarian Jew who came to the United States, began working for a German newspaper, purchased the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, dabbled in yellow-journalism, and suffered anti-Semitism.
Pulitzer believed wholeheartedly in the force of journalism to shape the nation:
“The power to mold the future of the Republic will be in the hands of the journalists of future generations.”
When he died, Pulitzer left money for prizes to be awarded to deserving journalists throughout the ages. The prizes were first awarded in 1917. Usually, the award ceremony happens in April, but this year because of the Coronavirus pandemic, prizes were announced on May 4th with the ceremony to be held in the fall.
What does a writer have to do to win the Pulitzer?
The main criteria for winning is to create a “distinguished” work of journalism in any one of twenty-two categories.
The Prizes are awarded by a Board comprised of prominent journalists of our time. Professors, editors, and writers from large media-based institutions like The Associated Press, The New York Times, Columbia University, The Mellon Foundation, and many other organizations sit on the Board based at Columbia University. Together, this Board decides on the award-winners.
For fiction, the award-winning book must be
“distinguished fiction published in book form during the year by an American author, preferably dealing with American life.”
This year’s winners:
FICTION: Colson Whitehead, The Nickel Boys:
The Nickel Boys is the story of two boys who form a friendship after being sentenced to a brutal reform school. It’s based on a real-life institution that existed for more than a century.
Booth Tarkington, 1919 and 1922
William Faulkner, 1955 and 1963
John Updike, 1982 and 1991
Colson Whitehead, 2017 and 2020
Finalists for the Fiction Award were Ann Patchett for The Dutch House and Ben Lerner for The Topeka School.
Two winners: Anne Boyer, The Undying and Greg Grandin, The End of the Myth
Anne Boyer is a poet and essayist, diagnosed in 2014 with an aggressive form of breast cancer. Her reflections on her illness and treatment formed the basis for her Pulitzer-Prize winning book, The Undying: Pain, Vulnerability, Mortality, Medicine, Art, Time, Dreams, Data, Exhaustion, Cancer, and Care.
Greg Grandin is a history professor at Yale University and no stranger to the Pulitzer Prize. His book, Fordlandia: The Rise and Fall of Henry Ford’s Forgotten Jungle City was a finalist for the Pulitzer in 2010.
His newest book, The End of the Myth was nominated in TWO categories: General Non-Fiction AND History. The blurb on MacMillan’s site says that The End of the Myth is:
“A new and eye-opening interpretation of the meaning of the frontier, from early westward expansion to Trump’s border wall.”
Finalist for the General Non-fiction: Louise Aronson, Elderhood Solitary
W. Caleb McDaniel, Sweet Taste of Liberty
W. Caleb McDaniel teaches at Rice University and writes about slavery, anti-slavery, and emancipation. His book Sweet Taste of Liberty is the story of a slave, Henrietta Wood, who was legally freed but sold back into slavery by a Kentucky deputy named Zebulon Ward. Henrietta Wood gained her freedom for a second time and went to Cincinnati where she sued the deputy and won the largest amount for restitution for slavery at that time.
Finalists: Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, Race for Profit and Greg Grandin, The End of the Myth
The categories of fiction, non-fiction, and history are my favorites, but there are plenty of other categories to peruse….like Biography, Poetry, Film, Feature Writing, Music, and Investigative Journalism, just to name a few. Want to know more? Read this article from LitHub, complete with interviews with each of the authors.