Pulitzer Prize: One Hundred Years of Excellence

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Since 1917, the Pulitzer Prize, named after Hungarian journalist Joseph Pulitzer (pronounced PULL-it-sir), has been awarded to exceptional writers in a variety of categories. Though changes have been made to the awards over the years, what hasn’t changed is the Pulitzer’s association with journalistic integrity.pulitzer+prize1

This year, the Pulitzer organization will be having a yearlong celebration of its upcoming centennial. 2017 will mark one hundred years of Pulitzer prizes and, in recognition of this, prize winners and the public can share in mostly free events around the United States. Event information is available on their regularly updated calendar of events.

Pulitzer Prizes are actually awarded in twenty-one categories, including editorial cartooning, photography, fiction, original verse, drama and even music. Did you expect that? Many of the categories were indeed added at later dates, as Joseph Pulitzer only designated four categories of awards in journalism. However, with amazing foresight and sensitivity to the changing times, he allowed for the appointed advisory board to make changes as they saw fit. Awards can even be withheld if no entries are deemed to meet the criteria in their respective category!

More than 2,400 entries are made each year in the Pulitzer Prize competitions. Early in the year, 102 judges are appointed to serve on 20 separate juries and make three nominations in each of the 21 categories. The judging and voting process is quite extensive! You will see it is quite an involved and interesting progression as the time to make the awards grows nearer.

Winners are announced in April. A gold medal is awarded in the category of public service journalism. There are also certificates in the other categories and cash awards of $10,000. Five fellowships of $7,500 each are also awarded annually. While other competitions may yield larger award sums, the prestige and recognition of the Pulitzer is unmatched.

Unsurprisingly, the awards being subjective as they are, controversies have arisen over the years in regards to awards both given and not given. What catches the eye of popular culture is not necessarily what merits a Pulitzer Prize. You can read about some of the controversies that have plagued the Pulitzers over the years on their website, where you will find that the awards for novels and plays have gotten their share of attention. In perusing the lists of winners, you will find examples of how levels of conservatism have changed over time in the Pulitzer board.

In honor of the centennial of the Pulitzer awards, you might want to check out some of the winning literature. From the 2015 winner in fiction, All the Light We Cannot See, to All the King’s Men, which won the 1947 prize for a novel, you can find a lot of Pulitzer prize winning literature at the library. Try Turtle Island by Gary Snyder, the poetry winner for 1975, or Guns, Germs and Steel by Jared Diamond, which won for non-fiction in 1998. Biography/autobiography is a separate Pulitzer category from non-fiction. I would be intrigued by Vera (Mrs. Vladimir Nabokov) by Stacy Schiff, myself. It won in 2000. You can even find an arrangement of Appalachian Spring (CD) by Aaron Copland, music winner in 1945.

Perhaps you root for the underdogs, and would like to read some runners-up. You can hardly call a runner-up for a Pulitzer an underdog, but nevertheless. Try The Forest Unseen: A Year’s Watch in Nature by David George Haskell, a non-fiction runner-up in 2013. Or, a 2013 runner-up in the category of history, Lincoln’s Code: The Laws of War in American History by John Fabian Witt.

Let’s take this opportunity to consider and enjoy the brilliant writing, reporting, cartooning, composing, and other forms of expression that enrich our lives. If you find a Pulitzer prize winner or runner-up on our shelves that looks intriguing, we would encourage you to PULL-it-sir!

~ Amanda, reference librarian, Warrenton central library

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