The Pulitzer Prize was established in 1917 by the Hungarian-born Joseph Pulitzer, who made his name and fortune as a newspaper publisher in the United States.
Pulitzer came the United States and was paid $200 to enlist in the United States Army during the American Civil War. Following his discharge, he made his way to Boston, intended to get work aboard the whaling ships of New Bedford. Whaling, he found to his dismay, was quite boring, so he lived the life of a tramp for some time, sleeping on the streets and traveling in boxcars all the way to St. Louis. In a town so full of German immigrants, Pulitzer was a welcomed guest, and soon found work in restaurants…and was fired when he dropped a tray and doused a patron in beer.
So Pulitzer did what all wise people do (ahem) and he started hanging out at the Library. He learned English from the books on the shelf, and decided to strike out on his own, making his way to Louisiana, after some fast-talking steamboat operators convinced him, and a few other men, good-paying jobs on a Louisiana sugar plantation. They boarded a steamboat, which took them downriver 30 miles south of the city, where the crew forced them off. When the boat churned away, the men concluded the promised plantation jobs were a ruse. They walked back to the city, where Pulitzer wrote an account of the fraud and was pleased when it was accepted by the Westliche Post, evidently his first published news story. He moved back to St. Louis (and near his beloved Library), and began buying shares in newspapers–then selling them, eventually making a profit that allowed him to buy both the St. Louis Dispatch, and the St. Louis Post, and combine them into the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, which is still in operation today.
Pulitzer himself was a workhorse, putting in workdays that started at 10am and ended at 2am the next day. And that work paid off. Within a decade, he was buying newspapers in cities across the country, and by 1887, he was elected to the US Congress (and resigned so that he could pay attention to his papers). It is thanks to Pulitzer, and his arch-rival, William Randolph Hearst, that we have the world of news that we do today. The two of them, quite literally, single-handedly invented modern print journalism by selling advertising space in their papers, and, thus, monetizing the material they were putting out. In order to ensure that papers sold, they both encouraged their reporters to sell the stories, with eye-catching headlines, passionate story-telling, investigative, hard-hitting articles…and a good helping of sensationalism mixed in to ensure that the public remained riveted.
Pulitzer left Columbia University $2,000,000 in his will upon his death in 1912…this around the time that the average annual income was $500-$700…to found a school of journalism, to ensure the news empire that he build, and the business he had helped to found, would continue to thrive. Five years later, they established a prize in his name to reward the best that American journalism has to offer. Since then, the award has expanded to include “Letters, Drama, and Music” as well, making it one of the most prestigious literary awards in the United States. Prizes are awarded yearly in twenty-one categories. In twenty of the categories, each winner receives a certificate and a US$15,000 cash award (raised from $10,000 in 2017).
And today, we are thrilled to announce the winners of the 2018 Pulitzer Prizes for “Letters, Drama, and Music”, along with the description provided by the judging board in their selection. For the full list of awards, see the Pulitzer Prize website here.
Less, by Andrew Sean Greer
“A generous book, musical in its prose and expansive in its structure and range, about growing older and the essential nature of love.”
Cost of Living, by Martyna Majok
An honest, original work that invites audiences to examine diverse perceptions of privilege and human connection through two pairs of mismatched individuals: a former trucker and his recently paralyzed ex-wife, and an arrogant young man with cerebral palsy and his new caregiver.
The Gulf: The Making of an American Sea, by Jack E. Davis
An important environmental history of the Gulf of Mexico that brings crucial attention to Earth’s 10th-largest body of water, one of the planet’s most diverse and productive marine ecosystems.
Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder, by Caroline Fraser
A deeply researched and elegantly written portrait of Laura Ingalls Wilder, author of the Little House on the Prairie series, that describes how Wilder transformed her family’s story of poverty, failure and struggle into an uplifting tale of self-reliance, familial love and perseverance.
Half-light: Collected Poems 1965-2016, by Frank Bidart
A volume of unyielding ambition and remarkable scope that mixes long dramatic poems with short elliptical lyrics, building on classical mythology and reinventing forms of desires that defy societal norms.
Locking Up Our Own: Crime and Punishment in Black America, by James Forman Jr.
An examination of the historical roots of contemporary criminal justice in the U.S., based on vast experience and deep knowledge of the legal system, and its often-devastating consequences for citizens and communities of color.
DAMN., by Kendrick Lamar
Recording released on April 14, 2017, a virtuosic song collection unified by its vernacular authenticity and rhythmic dynamism that offers affecting vignettes capturing the complexity of modern African-American life.
Check out more information about the Pulitzer Prizes for Journalism at the Pulitzer Prize website!