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The Pulitzer Prize is an award for achievements in newspaper, magazine, online journalism, literature, and musical composition within the United States. It was set up in 1917 by provisions in the will of Joseph Pulitzer, who had made his destiny as a newspaper publisher, and is managed by Columbia University. Prizes are distributed every year in twenty-one categories. In twenty of the categories, each winner gets a certificate and a US$15,000 cash award (raised from $10,000 in 2017). The winner in the public service category is given a gold medal.
Newspaper publisher Joseph Pulitzer bestowed money in his will to Columbia University to start a journalism school and set up the Pulitzer Prize. It alloted $250,000 to the prize and scholarships. He designated “four awards in journalism, four in letters and drama, one in education, and four traveling scholarships. After his demise on October 29, 1911, the first Pulitzer Prizes were distributed on June 4, 1917 (they are now declared in April). The Chicago Tribune under the management of Colonel Robert R. McCormick thought that the Pulitzer Prize was just a ‘mutual admiration society’ and not to be taken seriously; the paper rejected to participate for the prize during McCormick’s administration until 1961. Until 1975, the prizes were organized by the administrators of Columbia University.
The History and Importance of Pulitzer Prize
The Pulitzer Prize was set up over 100 years ago to respect notable achievements in journalism. Since its establishment, the award has expanded to incorporate 21 different categories, ranging from literature to musical composition. The prize is named after Joseph Pulitzer, a newspaper journalist with an interesting life.
Joseph Pulitzer: Pioneer Journalist
Joseph Pulitzer’s life story is an attracting one. Born in Hungary, he made his way to the United States as a young man. He wished to be in the service in the Army during the American Civil War. He enrolled for a year in the Lincoln Calvery before going to St. Louis where he did odd jobs and educated himself as much as he could studying at the Mercantile Library. It was there that a chance encounter put him in front of the editors of the German-language newspaper of the area, the Westliche Post. This led to a job.
He went on to become a publisher of the St. Louis Dispatch by the time he was 25 years old. From there, he used his business brilliance and soon gained ownership of the paper. He went on to become owner of The New York World.
Pulitzer usually neglected his own personal health and worked for long hours at the office. He transformed journalism in that he made his works must-reads for the general pubic. He did so by using pictures and overemphasized stories to fill up his pages. He made it his aim to censure public and private manipulation whether it be at the hands of the government or wealthy business owners. His papers featured exposés and lengthy editorials that held a populist appeal. Pulitzer’s papers were extensively circulated.
One example of his influence can be seen in the way in which he was able to increase funds by subscription to construct a foundation for the Statue of Liberty which was waiting for shipment from France.
By the late 1880s, The World became the most ciculated paper in the country. Pulitzer himself soon became the foundation for attacks from competing newspapers who were jealous of his success. In one such case, Charles Anderson Dana, publisher of The Sun, painted Pulitzer as a man who had ditched his religion in favor of wealth and fame. The attack on Pulitzer was thorough and wanted to boycott him from the Jewish readership in New York.
Pulitzer’s already weak health took a hit as a result of these bad campaigns. He spent most of his later years hidden on a yacht or in specially designed spaces that protected him from noise. Still, he remained in complete control of his papers, offering direction and help from where ever he was in the world.
Pulitzer strongly believed in the power of investigative journalism. He declined to back down when he was charged with libel for The World’s work revealing crooked payments by the U.S. government to the French Panama Canal Company. When the charges were finally banished, Pulitzer’s success was a huge victory for freedom of speech and of the press. His thoughts on journalism can be summed up in a paragraph he wrote in The North American Review in favor of founding a journalism school:
“Our Republic and its press will rise or fall together. An able, disinterested, public-spirited press, with trained intelligence to know the right and courage to do it, can preserve that public virtue without which popular government is a sham and a mockery. A cynical, mercenary, demagogic press will produce in time a people as base as itself. The power to mould the future of the Republic will be in the hands of the journalists of future generations.”
Alongside his death, Pulitzer left money to Columbia University to set up a journalism school and launch four awards in the field. The first awards were presented on June 4, 1917, but currently Pulitzer Prize winners are declared in April.
There are six categories for letters and drama: Fiction (before 1947, Novel); Drama; History; Biography/Autobiography; Poetry; and General Non-Fiction. Since the prize was established, various categories have been added, merged, or removed to reflect changes in journalism and technology. For example, the award for telegraphic reporting has been left obsolete.
A Look at Past Pulitzer Prize Winners
William Faulkner, Norman Mailer, Thornton Wilder, Philip Roth, John Updike, John Steinbeck and Ernest Hemingway have all won Pulitzer Prizes.
Pulitzer Prize-winning works in Fiction from the past two decades include:
- Less, by Andrew Sean Greer (2018)
- The Underground Railroad, by Colson Whitehead (2017)
- The Sympathizer, by Viet Thanh Nguyen (2016)
- All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr (2015)
- The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt (2014)
- The Orphan Master’s Son, by Adam Johnson (2013)
- A Visit from the Goon Squad, by Jennifer Egan (2011)
- Tinkers, by Paul Harding (2010)
- Olive Kittridge, by Elizabeth Strout (2009)
- The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, by Junot Diaz (2008)
- The Road, by Cormac McCarthy (2007)
- March, by Geraldine Brooks (2006)
- Gilead, by Marilynne Robinson (2005)
- The Known World, by Edward P Jones (2004)
- Middlesex, by Jeffery Eugenides (2003)
- Empire Falls, by Richard Russo (2002)
Controversies over Pulitzer Prizes
Several times throughout the history of the award, no prize has been given in the fiction category. This occurred in 1977, 1974, 1971, 1964, 1957, and 1954. In 1974, the three-person jury for Fiction actually nominated Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow for the award, but in an incredibly controversial decision, the committee overturned the nomination and chose to give no award instead. In 2012, no award was granted in the category of Fiction as well, though three finalists were named: Train Dreams (Denis Johnson); Swamplandia! (Karen Russell) and The Pale King (David Foster Wallace). The decision to grant no award sparked considerable controversy among the literary community. Heated debate ensued over what constitutes “great” literature and writing.
Whatever “great” writing is, it is safe to say that Joseph Pulitzer made a place for it, and we are grateful he foresaw the need to champion and award those who continue to seek truth and excellence through the written word. We’re looking forward to seeing who joins the prestigious list of Pulitzer Prize winners this afternoon!
Pulitzer Prize 2022: Full list of Pulitzer Prize Winners in Journalism, Books, Drama and Music
Pulitzer Prize in Journalism
|1.||Public Service||The Washington Post for covering the assault on Capitol on January 6, 2021.|
|2.||Breaking News Reporting||The Staff of the Miami Herald for covering the collapse of Seaside apartment towers in Florida|
|3.||Investigative Reporting||Corey G. Johnson, Rebecca Woolington, and Eli Murray of the Tampa Bay Times for exposing highly toxic hazard inside only battery recycling plant in Florida|
|4.||Explanatory Reporting||Staff of Quanta Magazine, notably Natalie Wolchover on how the Webb Space Telescope works|
|5.||Local Reporting||Cecilia Reyes of Chicago Tribune and Madison Hopkins of the Better Government Association|
|6.||National Reporting||The Staff of the New York Times|
|7.||International Reporting||The Staff of the New York Times|
|8.||Feature Writing||Jennifer Senior of The Atlantic|
|9.||Commentary||Melinda Henneberger of the Kansas City Star|
|10.||Criticism||Salamishah Tillet, contributing critic at large for The New York Times|
|11.||Editorial Writing||Lisa Falkenberg, Michael Lindenberger, Joe Holley and Luis Carrasco of The Houston Chronicle|
|12.||Illustrated Reporting and Commentary||Fahmida Azim, Anthong Del Col, Josh Adams, Walt Jockey of Insider|
|13.||Breaking News Photography||Marcus Yam of Los Angeles Times for images of US departure from Afghanistan
Win McNamee, Drew Angerer, Spencer Platt, Samuel Corum and John Cherry of Getty Images for photos of attack on US Capitol
|14.||Feature Photography||Late Danish Siddiqui of Reuters, Adnan Abidi, Sanna Irshad Mattoo, and Amit Dave for images of COVID toll in India|
|15.||Audio Reporting||Staffs of Futuro Media and PRX for ‘Suave’- an immersive profile of a man re-entering society after more than 30 years in Prison|
Pulitzer Prize 2022 Special Citation
|Special Awards & Citations||The Journalists of Ukraine|
Pulitzer Prize 2022 in Books, Drama & Music
|1.||Fiction||The Netanyahus: An Account of a Minor and Ultimately Even Negligible Episode in the History of a Very Famous Family, by Joshua Green|
|2.||Drama||Fat Ham, by James Ijames|
|3.||History||Covered with Night, by Nicole Eustace (Liveright/Norton)
Cuba: An American History, by Ada Ferrer (Scribner)
|4.||Biography||Chasing Me to My Grave: An Artist’s Memoir of Jim Crow South, by the late Winfred Rembert as told to Erin. I Kelly (Bloomsbury)|
|5.||Poetry||frank: sonnets, by Diane Seuss|
|6.||General Notification||Invisible Child: Poverty, Survival & Hope in an American City, by Andrea Elliott|
|7.||Music||Voiceless Mass, by Raven Chacon|
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