The Pulitzer Prizes: A History of the Awards in Books, Drama, Music, and Journalism, Based on the Private Files over Six Decades
Columbia University Press
1: The Grand Scheme 1902-1916
1: The Germ of an Idea
2: “To The Prizes I Am Much Attached”
3: The Will
4: The Board Takes Over
5: The Administration
2: Prizes for a Brave New World 1917-1923
1: The Beginning
2: Warriors and Peacemakers
“There’s lots to talk about and still a bit of sugar in the bottom of the glass.” –Henry Watterson of the Louisville Courier-Journal
“…the New York World set the example with a resolute attack on wrongdoing and that the mainspring of its campaigns was an aggressive and domineering journalist who already had won one Pulitzer Prize, Herbert Bayard Swope” (39).
“All this was preparation for the World’s major crusades after Swope became executive editor in 1920…During the next year, by following the World’s lead, the Memphis Commercial Appeal also won the public service gold medal for an expose of the Klan. What these two prizes did was to recognize and stimulate the investigative function of the press in reporting on the threat to civil liberties that the Klan represented” (40).
Walter Lippmann was editor of the World’s editorial page. Swope saw that with him, it was the story that counted. “He caused the World to cover so many lynchings that the paper acquired a reputation for being pro-Negro at a time when such an attitude was unpopular with advertisers.
“White’s defiance became national news. If labor was enthusiastic, many of the middle-class readers of the Gazette were not. He received numerous protests and, in response to one of them, wrote his classic editorial, ‘To An Anxious Friend,’ which he published on Page 1 on July 27, 1922. He opened with the theme: ‘You say that freedom of utterance is not for time of stress and I reply with the sad truth that only in time of stress is freedom of utterance in danger.’ And he closed with this assurance:
‘So, dear friend, put fear out of your heart. This nation will survive, this state will prosper, the orderly business of life will go forward if only men can speak in whatever way given them to utter what their hearts hold–by voice, by posted card, by letter, of by press. Reason has never failed men. Only force and repression have made wrecks in this world.’
“The governor’s suit against White was dismissed. The strike was settled. And, by recommendation of a jury and the Advisory Board, William Allen White was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Writing in 1923” (42).
3: The Emergence of Eugene O’Neill
“He signed with a flourish, including his middle initial, G. For Gladstone, which he soon dropped. It was the beginning of a long and profitable relationship between O’Neill and the university, for he was to win two more Pulitzer Prizes in his lifetime and one posthumously for his bitter and tragic evocation of his family’s life, Long Day’s Journey into Night. The Nobel Prize came to him in 1936, eight years after his third Pulitzer Prize, making him the first American dramatist to be honored with such international recognition” (49).
On page 50 there is a key to good writing:
“…the merit of a tense, driving, emotional sincerity, imparting to the spectator–when he withdraws a little from the spell of the tragedy–the sense that the dramatist has been imaginatively at the mercy of his people; not manipulating them so much as being manipulated by them.”
O’Neill “had even acquired his own bootlegger, an sign of prestige in the swinging New York of his middle years” (52).
4: The Novel: Whole or Wholesome?
“The issue posed by Sherman finally broke into the open with the publication of Sinclair Lewis’ Main Street, the most controversial book of 1920, which attacked the mores of Middle America and tore apart the hitherto sacred values of the people of its small towns” (58).
“In retrospect, The Age of Innocence has outlasted the vogue of Main Street. Mrs. Wharton’s book is still recognized as a classic…” (60).
5: History: The Aristocrats
“The swift growth of the American university system may have stimulated the development of the professional, but it was years before he was able to overcome criticism of his tendency toward empty pedantry and dreary prose” (62).
6: Two Poets from Maine
Joseph Pulitzer “had omitted any mention of poetry from his will” (69).
Page 70 discusses the interesting personality differences between the first two poetry winners.
It sounds like I may want to explore the poetry of Millay.
3: Changing Times, Changing Awards 1924-1933
1: Journalism: The Public Interest
2: The Embattled Novelists
3: Drama: Winners and Losers
4: History’s Progressives
5: Poetry: From Frost to MacLeish
4: The Laureates Face the Storm 1934-1942
1: The Press During the New Deal
1941…”Basically, the Supreme Court held that there can be no restriction upon freedom of speech or the press unless there is substantial proof of a ‘clear and present danger’ to the conduct of government” (128).
2: Fiction: The Mid-Victoria Cross
3: Drama: The Battle of Broadway
“W. Somerset Maugham, the British novelist and playwright, joined Mrs. Colum and Professor Phelps on the Pulitzer Drama Jury for the war year of 1942, but they found nothing that pleased them…Maugham added his own estimate: ‘It is with great regret that I have to state my opinion that no play has been produced during the last year that deserves the honour that it is in the power of Columbia University to confer. If, as I understand, the purpose of the Pulitzer Prize is to reward definite achievement, I cannot but think that to confer the prize on a poor play because it is the least poor of a poor lot would be to lessen its value. It would be no encouragement to the art of the drama’” (155-6).
4: History: The Professionals Take Over
5: Poets Pleasant and Unpleasant
“Poetry magazine called [Van Doren] ‘solidly entrenched in the tradition of definite purpose framed in strict patterns….he has never been a slave to a vogue and never having been in fashion will never be out of it’” (167).
6: The Prizes After Twenty-five Years
5: The Prizes in War and Peace 1943-1954
1: The Era of the Reporter
“Of the winners, by all odds the greatest was Ernie Pyle. Ernest Taylor Pyle was just an old-fashioned reporter in the pre-television age. Sometimes, he couldn’t read his own notes and he never did look like much. His baggy, and usually dirty, correspondent’s uniform hung on him like a used potato sack because his was scarcely an Olympian figure; he was small, scrawny, and unashamedly bald. His enunciation was poor, his language worse, for he loved the ‘Goddamned infantry’ and he expressed himself in vigorous and earthy terms that would send a sensitive television vice president into screaming tantrums.
“When Pyle began his wartime service in Europe in 1942 at the age of 42, he was among the oldest of all the correspondents and he was deplorably subject to colds. Never for a moment did he glory in the false and brassy romance of war. He hated war with a convulsive, impassioned hatred. And yet, in World War II, he became the best-loved and most influential of all American war correspondents and he brought the war into the American home with mere words on paper as no one had been able to do it before” (178-9).
“Columbia journalism faculty members of the Correspondence Jury, proposed him for the Pulitzer Prize in Correspondence. When it was announced on May 1, it was greeted with popular acclaim everywhere. For of the five hundred correspondents who were preparing at the time to cover D-Day, Ernie Pyle was No. 1.
“Soon after the first troops landed in Normandy on June 6, he was on the beach with them. On July 25, 1944, when he reported the breakthrough that sent American arms racing into the heart of France, he was under fire and narrowly escaped death. And on August 25, 1944, when he rode into Paris in a jeep with the victorious French and
Americans, he wrote: ‘I had thought that for me there could never again be any elation in war. But I had reckoned without the liberation of Paris…’ After that, he had enough and came home for a rest, but not for long. On April 12, 1945, when he was with the American 77th Division in the Pacific, he learned of President Roosevelt’s death that day. And on tiny Ie Shima six days later, when he hit the bach with the GIs of the 77th, a Japanese sniper got him in the right temple.
“Everywhere on the war fronts, the correspondents mourned him. And in the United States, the outpouring of national grief came from the White House and the humblest homes alike. For the Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Ernie Pyle had shared the trust and the love of a war-beleaguered people and he would not soon be forgotten” (180).
2: The Troublesome Novel
“The emotional, crusading fervor against the enemies of America that bulked so large in the nation’s consciousness during World War II had a predictable impact on the American novel. Not since the Civil War had so many writers of consequence felt it to be their destiny to write about war in fictional form for the benefit of their countrymen, if not entirely for themselves. Perhaps the patriotic spirit was greater in World War I, but it didn’t last as long. In World War II, the ideological commitment of the intellectuals was made years before the Nazis struck at Poland in 1939. Thus, the novelists had a long time to mull over their feelings and the books they produced about the conflict continued to reach the public years after World War II ended” (197).
The 1947 winner was All the King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren. Warren’s “teaching career began at Southwestern College in Memphis in 1931” (199).
Tales of the South Pacific, 1947, Michener. (Sounds like a fun read.)
3: The Theater Looks Up
4: History–The Broader View
The John Muir story, Son of the Wilderness, by Linnie Marsh Wolfe, in 1946.
5: Poets–Modern and Not So Modern
1950 “recognize Gwendolyn Brooks, the first black person to win a Pulitzer Prize. She received the award for her poetic work, Annie Allen. The report said:
‘Some years ago, Gwendolyn Brooks, a Negro writer of unusual ability, published A Street in Bronzeville, which made a great impression on all its readers and had what is unusual for poetry today–a wide sale. In 1949 she published Annie Allen, a much better book, and indeed, in our opinion, the outstanding volume of the year if you exclude Robert Frost. No other Negro poet has written such poetry of her own race, of her own experiences, subjective and objective, and with no grievance or racial criticism as the purpose of her poetry. It is highly skillful and strong poetry, come out of the heart, but rich with racial experience.’
“Gwendolyn Brooks was born in Topeka in 1917 but grew up in Chicago, attended school there and was graduated from Wilson Jr. College. Her Annie Allen was born out of her own experiences on Chicago’s South Side, from childhood to womanhood, and included characters she knew there. The varied lyrics and ballads in the book, modestly called notes, were developed into a single short narrative called ‘The Anniad.’ Alfred Kreymborg called it ‘not only brilliant but profound in its tragic and tragi-comic implications.’
“Miss Brooks’s ability as a poet had been recognized before she won her Pulitzer, for she was the recipient in her earlier years of two Guggenheim Fellowships and a grant from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Thereafter, in 1969, she became the Poet Laureate of Illinois and a poet of the first rank in America. But she did not stand aside from the struggle of her people when it reached a violent pitch in the 1960s; like the younger black artists, writers, and poets, she became a part of the black revolution. It did not bother her that some of the black activists regarded her new activities with puzzlement in view of her status as a Pulitzer Prize winner.
“‘For me,’ she wrote in 1972, ‘the award had the effect of a doctorate, enabling me to teach in universities and colleges. It has been a ‘open sesame’ to much in this country. It has also–formerly–abashed and puzzled certain young people, who considered it ‘establishmentarian’!”
“In her autobiography, Report from Part One, she thought deeply of her old life style and the changes that time and circumstance had made in it. These were her reflections:
“‘I–who have ‘gone the gamut’ from an almost angry rejection of my dark skin by some of my brainwashed brothers and sisters to a surprised queenhood in the new black sun–am qualified to enter at least the kindergarten of new consciousness now. New consciousness and trudge-toward-progress. I have hopes for myself’” (221-2).
Seek out the works of Marianne Moore.
6: The First Music Prizes
7: The Old Order Passes
6: A Change in Direction for the Prizes 1955-1965
1: The New Board
2: The Press as Leader
“‘One of these days it will be Monday,’ Ralph McGill wrote in the Atlanta Constitution during 1953. And on May 17, 1954, Monday finally came–the Monday that a segregated South had dreaded for so many years, the Monday on which the United States Supreme Court handed down its decision desegregating the schools. McGill was ready for it, but not many others were; certainly, not the schools in the South nor their administrators, not even the bench and bar and the governors of the states that were directly affected.
“The great Georgian sometimes despaired even of his own profession because so few were willing to provide the leadership that this time of peril and change in American society so desperately required. And yet, between 1955 and 1965, no fewer than ten Pulitzer Prizes were granted for distinguished journalism dealing with the nation’s massive racial crisis–one for public service, two for reporting, six for editorial writing, and there was a special citation as well. This was more than all the prizes that had been given between 1917 and 1954 for crusades against the Ku Klux Klan and ruthless lynch law.
“One of the first to stand up against the social pressure to nullify desegregation in the South was Buford Boone, editor of the Tuscaloosa (Ala.) News. When student rioters on February 6, 1956, forced the withdrawal of the first black student at the University of Alabama, Boone rebuked the community in these harsh terms:
‘We have had a breakdown of law and order, and abject surrender to what is expedient rather than a courageous stand for what is right. Yes, there’s peace on the university campus this morning. But what a price has been paid for it!’
“That editorial, ‘What a Price for Peace,’ brought Boone the Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Writing in 1957. What happened in Tuscaloosa, however, was only the beginning of a shameful campaign in some of the finest and loveliest cities of the South. What it finally came down to, in the fall of 1957, was the use of Federal troops by President Eisenhower to restore order in Little Rock, Ark.
“Governor Orval Eugene Faubus of Arkansas had forced the issue by leading the opposition to the enrollment of nine Negro children at Central High School in Little Rock. Early in September, he even called out the National Guard to surround the then empty school on the pretext that violence was threatened. The White Citizens Councils, the lineal descendants of the Ku Klux Klan, were jubilant. But the 85-year-old publisher of the Arkansas Gazette, John Netherland Heiskell, was not. He chose to stand with his editor, Harry S. Ashmore, in a campaign for decency in Little Rock. The issue, as Ashmore saw it in an editorial on September 9, 1957, was basic:
‘Somehow, some time, every Arkansan is going to have to be counted. We are going to have to decide what kind of people we are–whether we obey the law only when we approve of it, or whether we obey it no matter how distasteful we may find it. An this, finally, is the only issue before the people of Arkansas.’
“On a turbulent morning two weeks later, Relman (Pat) Morin of the Associated Press was outside Central High School in a glass-enclosed telephone booth when a shrieking mob forced its first black students to leave their classes. What Morin did in that epic report of September 23 won him the Pulitzer Prize for National Reporting, his second Pulitzer award. But even more important, his first-hand description of the riot almost certainly played a part in President Eisenhower’s decision to move Federal troops into Little Rock that day.
“Order was finally restored in the city. But the segregationists turned venomously on the Arkansas Gazette, their main enemy, and cut its revenue by $2 million through advertising and circulation boycotts. Eventually, Ashmore left his post in order to relieve the newspaper of some of the pressure. But before he did so, he and the Gazette shared a rare honor–a double Pulitzer Prize; in 1958, he won the editorial writing award and the paper was given the public service gold medal.
“Throughout the years of turmoil in Dixie, Ralph McGill had been thundering defiance in the columns of the Atlanta Constitution against the violent segregationists. In return, he was threatened. His wife, chronically ill, was abused. Their home was the target for all manner of senseless outrages. But McGill resolutely maintained his position. It wasn’t in him to quit.
“Despite his crusading fervor, Ralph McGill neither looked nor acted like a champion of social reform. He was a generous and kindly man, a lively companion, and an incomparable storyteller. But he was also, for all his days, an inveterate defender of the weak and the helpless. He had been born in Tennessee in 1898, attended Vanderbilt, served in World War I, and begun newspaper work as a sports writer for the Nashville Banner in 1922. It was only when he came to the Atlanta Constitution in 1931 that he lifted his sights beyond the starry-eyed world of sports to the realities of life and experienced the first Ku Klux Klan demonstration against him. Nevertheless, in 1942, he became the Constitution’s editor and its featured columnist.
“Once the Supreme Court ordered the desegregation of the schools, McGill followed the course of events in Dixie with mounting anger–from Tuscaloosa to Little Rock and beyond, from bombings and burnings in Florida, Alabama, and South Carolina to his native Tennessee where a fine new high school at Clinton was destroyed. In mid-October 1958 when he came home, his wife told him that The Temple, home of Atlanta’s largest Jewish congregation, had been ripped apart by a bomb. McGill was appalled and outraged. He went to his typewriter and in twenty minutes produced an editorial, ‘One Church…One School,’ that ran in the Constitution on October 15, 1958. He wrote:
“‘This is a harvest. It is a crop of things sown. It is the harvest of defiance of courts and the encouragement of citizens to defy the law on the part of many Southern politicians.
“‘It is not possible to preach lawlessness and restrict it. When leadership in high places fails to support constituted authority, it opens the gates to all those who wish to take law into their hands. The extremists of the citizens’ councils, the political leaders who in terms violent and inflammatory have repudiated their oaths and stood against due process of law, have helped unloose this flood of hate.’
“The editorial brough Ralph McGill the Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Writing in 1959. Although he was the recognized leader of liberal opinion in the South, it was characteristic of him to say, when he heard the news, ‘I never thought I’d make it.’ Two years later, he was invited to join the Advisory Board on the Pulitzer Prizes.
“The conflict over segregation in Virginia brought Pulitzer Prizes to Mary Lou Werner of the Washington Evening Star for her year-long reporting of the conflict and to Lenoir Chambers, editor of the Norfolk Virginian-Pilot, for his editorial writing. Miss Werner won in 1959, Chambers in 1960.
“When the focus of the struggle shifted to Mississippi in 1962, with rioters demonstrating against the admission to the University of Mississippi of its first black student, James Meredith, a small-town editor defied both the mob and the State government. The editor, Ira B. Harkey Jr., won the 1963 Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Writing, but with it came a bullet through the front door, the violent opposition of the segregationists, and such pitiless financial pressure that he had to sell his paper, the Pascagoula Chronicle, and leave the South.
“Another small-town publisher in Mississippi, Hazel Brannon Smith, was no less vigorous in her opposition to the White Citizens’ Councils but she managed to ride out the storm that almost destroyed her best property, the Lexington (Miss.) Advertiser. She won the Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Writing in 1964 and the plaudits of her neighbor, Hodding Carter of Greenville, who called her ‘The Fighting Lady.’
“It remained for the Gannett Newspapers to round out the decade following the Supreme Court’s historic decision by combining their efforts to produce a series, ‘The Road to Integration,’ which cited the positive accomplishments that had been achieved even though it did not gloss over the failures. The special citations, awarded to Gannett by recommendation of the Advisory Board in 1964, was the first ever given to any newspaper group.
“If the first decade of the massive American racial crisis did nothing else, it placed a heavy–perhaps too heavy–burden of leadership on the press, a responsibility that even the best and the bravest newspapers were not designed to discharge. But even more difficult times lay ahead, when the flames of burning cities in the latter 1960s threatened to spread all over the land in an outbreak of fierce and intractable civil strife” (240-243).
3: New Novelists, New Arguments
The Reivers, Faulkner “As it happened, 1962 was also the year which saw the publication of William Faulkner’s The Reivers, his last novel and also one of his most appealing. A genial comedy of three Mississippi innocents on a visit to Memphis, it contains a minimum of the rhetoric and moralising which characterized Faulkner’s later writing. The Reivers, is, in fact, a sunny interlude (the last, alas) in the shaping of the vast Yoknapatawpha saga, in which Faulkner for once sounds relaxed, as though he were yarning to a circle of friends in that soft, elliptical drawl of his. The Reivers has been described as ‘a perfect book for that last goodnight,’ and we agree” (259-60).
4: The Drama’s Time of Troubles
“Tennessee Williams’ outspoken play about a Southern plantation family, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, involved the reconstituted Advisory Board in a lively argument in 1955 at the outset of the chairmanship of Joseph Pulitzer Jr. At issue were all the old prejudices against gamey language and displays of immorality on the stage which had animated President Butler and the Board members of his day. To be sure, they had considered themselves more as guardians of the purity of the American novel, and had been relatively liberal within their lights in accepting the more venturesome reports of their drama juries. But they hadn’t come up against anything quite like Cat on a Hot Tin Roof which, even to jaded Broadway critics, was something special in free-wheeling dramaturgy. To quote Jack Gaver of United Press International: ‘There is more and rougher dialogue of a sexual nature–a lot more and a lot rougher–than in any other American play ever produced on Broadway. Much of it is completely unnecessary.’
“That was not the only objection in terms of an older Pulitzer view of the stage as a place of inspiration and uplift. The play itself was the main issue. The self-described ‘cat on a hot tin roof,’ Maggie, a childless wife with an alcoholic husband, is sexually frustrated and worried about a former homosexual incident in her husband’s life. She also is concerned because her father-in-law, ‘Big Daddy,’ a cancer victim although he doesn’t know it, is likely to leave his estate to an older son rather than her husband. In the struggle that ensures, the characters taunt, insult, and lie to each other with Maggie still hoping at the end for pregnancy and fulfillment” (260).
“Pulitzer, the new chairman, had seen Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and thought it worthy of the drama prize. He had little patience with the arguments against its extravagant language and unpleasant sexual themes, but based himself entirely on its effectiveness as a piece of realistic theater. The reconstituted Board, after considerable discussion, went along with him and voted for Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. This time, there was no Nicholas Murray Butler to threaten to invoke the veto power of the university Trustees, so Williams won his second drama award. It was the first and last time that the third Pulitzer took the lead in any discussion of the drama prize, although he often expressed his views with vigor and conviction as a member of the Board’s consultative committee on the drama” (261).
“The Advisory Board consists of a very distinguished group of representative Americans whose judgment as non-professional theatergoers has an interest and value of its own. If they are understandably tired of disagreeable plays and want something light, pleasant, and wholesome instead, they are certainly within their rights to choose the latter. But critics have to judge by different standards than their own pleasure–I mean in the ordinary sense of being entertained or cheered. Though, God willing, they don’t take themselves seriously, critics have to take the theater seriously and believe in its importance. Hence, they cannot pass over the painful merely because it is painful, and must think as professional observers in terms of careers, craftsmanship, language, ideas, etc. This is where the conflict is bound, at times, to arise between the Board and the Jurors” (265).
5: The Importance of Biography
6: Poetry and Music: Rewards of Fame
7: The Prizes: Present and Future 1966-1974
1: After Fifty Years
Editors Vermont Connecticut Royster and Virginius Dabney (what names!)
2: Press versus Government
“The publication of the Pentagon Papers was the issue that led to the first direct test of strength between paress and government in modern times–a conflict that had the strongest repercussions in the judging of the Pulitzer Prizes for 1972. Most of the documents, which consisted of forty-seven book-length volumes totaling more than 2.5 million words, had been obtained by the New York Times through the efforts of Neil Sheehan, who had become its Pentagon correspondent after leaving UPI. The top secret project, commissioned in mid-1967 by the then Secretary of Defense, Robert Strange McNamara, was a detailed record of American involvement in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia from the end of World War II until May, 1968” (307).
“In the government’s view, further publication would have done immediate and irreparable harm’ to national security.
“It was not until June 30, when the United States Supreme Court rejected the government’s position, that publication was resumed. The high court, in an unsigned ruling, voted 6-3 in favor of the New York Times and the Washington Post, which had begun its own publication of the documents on June 19. It held that ‘any system of prior restraints of expression comes to this court bearing a heavy presumption against its constitutionality,’ that the government had to show justification for such suppression, and that it had failed to do so.
“The Times, alone among the newspapers that had published the Pentagon Papers in whole or in part, entered two exhibits in the judging of the Pulitzer Prizes for 1972. One consisted of more than fifty full-size pages, the text of its nine articles plus supporting materials, which was nominated in the public service category. Another was the basis for the nomination of Neil Sheehan in both the National and International Reporting categories.
“When the Pulitzer Prize Journalism Juries met at Columbia University on March 7-8-9, 1972, the chairmen held a preliminary session, as was customary, to pass on matters of classification. Without the participation of Miss Charlotte Curtis of the New York Times, who headed the Cartooning Jury, the chairmen consolidated the Time’s Pentagon exhibits in the Public Service category. After examining eighty exhibits for two days, the Public Service Jury, under the chairmanship of Stuart Awbrey, editor and publisher of the Hutchinson (Kansas) News, unanimously reached the following verdict on March 9:
“‘A gold medal is recommended for the New York Times and for Neil Sheehan for the remarkable journalistic feat which has come to be known as the Pentagon Papers….It is fortuitous that the Pulitzer Prizes can recognize the accomplishments of both the newspaper an of a persistent, courageous reporter, and thus can reaffirm to the American people that the press continues its devotion to their right to know, a basic bulwark in our democratic society’” (308).
3: Modern Fiction and Its Problems
4: The Tough Theater
5: Historians, Biographers, and Journalists
“In a lighthearted reflection on the downbeat trends of the modern age, James Reston once observed that things were getting a little mixed up in the writing business. ‘The journalists,’ he said, ‘have been winning Pulitzer Prizes for history, and the historians have been winning prizes for journalism, and it has even been suggested occasionally that we [the journalists] have been winning prizes for what was really fiction’ He could have added, as well, that novelists of the first rank were masquerading as reporters by presenting books of non-fiction in fictional guise.
“This blurring of the lines was almost a regular feature of the Pulitzer Prizes in History, Biography, and General Non-Fiction from 1966 on. With a few major exceptions, scholars and statesmen joined the journalists in the development of subjects that were deemed relevant, an academic code word of the period, to the topsy-turvy nature of the times. And the journalists, without so much as a by-your-leave, draped themselves in the trappings of scholarship on occasion and presented consequential biographies and current histories. The Advisory Board became so accustomed to this continual switching of literary chairs that relatively few jury verdicts were overturned, and then only for what seemed to be compelling reasons” (331).
“Perhaps the most excitement of all came to Professor Williams, who had given up hope that his Huey Long would win the prize on the day of the announcement in 1970 and had gone to his doctor’s office to have his ears washed out. When he returned to his office at Louisiana State University, people were shouting and a colleague breathlessly informed him, ‘Your book won the Pulitzer Prize. The News services have been trying to get you.’ There was a deluge of messages and phone calls, but Professor Williams managed somehow to inform his wife, taught part of a night class, then celebrated” (334).
7: Facing the Future
“The Pulitzer Prizes have survived two World Wars, a great Depression, the bitterness of racial conflict, a tragic national schism over the Vietnam War, and the natural tensions between press and government. Many an award has created rejoicing but others have caused both controversy and criticism–all perfectly understandable reactions that are bound to continue. Barring some monstrous catastrophe, therefore, the thousandth winner of a Pulitzer Prize is likely to be selected shortly before the end of this century if the current rate of award-giving continues.
“It is tempting to speculate on the manner in which that symbolic winner will be chosen, and the nature and character of the work that will be rewarded. But, as experience has demonstrated, it is difficult enough to deal with the awards of a current year without trying to peer into the murky dawn of a new century. Juries are unpredictable. And when the Advisory Board meets, none can say what will happen. The one basic certainty is that the strong-minded people who take part in the prize-giving process will maintain their independence, come what may.
“As long as there is genius in America, with workable guarantees of freedom of speech and freedom of the press, there will be prizes to encourage and reward it. Given continued strong direction and support, the Pulitzer Prizes assuredly will remain among them” (354).