The Pulitzer Prize is one of the most revered awards in and across American journalism, literature, or music. Only thirteen are awarded each year; and since 1917, the award has signaled excellence across industries.
Nominees are announced in April of ever year, with prizes awarded the following May. There are currently 21 categories of the award and this year we had four Black winners. #PowertothePeople.
Colson Whitehead won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for the critically-acclaimed novel, The Underground Railroad. As “an inventive and searing take on slavery in 1850s Georgia,” The Underground Railroad already received critical acclaim from the likes of Oprah Winfrey, in addition to securing the 2016 National Book Award.
Tyehimba Jess won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry for his work, Olio. Olio explores “the story behind America’s blues, worksongs, and church hymns.” He blends facts and fiction to uncover the lives “of mostly unrecorded African American performers directly before and after the Civil War up to World War I.”
Hilton Als, theatre critic for The New Yorker, won the Pulitzer Prize for Criticism. Since 1994, Als has contributed critical reviews that are characterized as a “rigorous, sharp and lyrical perspective on acting, playwriting, and directing. His reviews have been qualified as providing “provocative contributions to the discourse on theatre, race, class, sexuality and identity in America.“
Lynn Nottage made history (part deux) by becoming the first female playwright to receive the Pulitzer Prize for the second time. Her play, Sweat, won in the Drama category and portrays a “personal and political drama exploring America’s industrial decline.”
These trailblazers join the list of African-American writers and photojournalists who have earned the honor since its inception in 1917. In true #PushBlack fashion, we’re celebrating their collective wins by showcasing a snapshot of the Black history of the Pulitzer Prize.
- Gwendolyn Brooks, one of the most highly regarded and influential poets of the 20th century, was the first African-American woman to win the Pulitzer Prize. She was awarded the 1950 Pulitzer for Poetry for her acclaimed connection, Annie Allen. She went on to become Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress and Poet Laureate of Illinois. In all, she wrote 24 published books over the course of her life.
- Moneta Sleet, Jr.,an award-winning photojournalist, was the first African-American man to win the Pulitzer Prize.In 1969, his work entitled “Deep Sorrow,” pictured Martin Luther King, Jr.’s widow, Coretta King, during King’s funeral. The image was originally published in Ebony Magazine but has since been showcased across various platforms.
- Suzan-Lori Parks, a creative writing professor at the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University, won the 2002 Pulitzer Prize for her play, “Topdog/Underdog.”
- Ovie Carter, a photojournalist, won the Pulizter Prize in 1975 for International Reporting. Carter, who went from the Air Force, to a lab assistant, and finally a general assignment photographer, captured images of poverty and strife in Chicago neighborhoods and abroad.
Want to learn about more Pulitzer Prize winning journalists and authors such as Toni Morrison, Rita Dove and August Wilson? Click here for the full list.
And don’t forget to support these honorable artists by purchasing a copy of their work. Colson Whitehead’s, The Underground Railroad, Tyehimba Jess’, Olio, and Lynn Nottage’s Sweat are all available via Amazon. Hilton Als’ work can also be found here, published by The New Yorker, and available free of charge.