Jericho Brown, Nikole Hannah-Jones, Colson Whitehead (photos via commons.wikipedia.org and nikolehannahjones.com)
by Lori Lakin Hutcherson (@lakinhutcherson)
The Pulitzer Prize winners for 2020 were announced yesterday. Notable among them were Colson Whitehead for Fiction for “The Nickel Boys,“ Nikole Hannah-Jones for Commentary for “The 1619 Project,” Jericho Brown for Poetry for “The Tradition,“ Michael R. Jackson for Drama for “A Strange Loop“ and Anthony Davis for Music for “The Central Park Five.”
And, posthumously, the one and only Ida B. Wells was awarded a special citation for her reporting on lynchings in the late-19th and early 20th century.
The Pulitzer Prize awards were established in 1917 through money provided in the will of Joseph Pulitzer, who had made his fortune as a newspaper publisher. The Pulitzers are given yearly in twenty-one categories. In twenty of the categories, each winner receives a certificate and a US $15,000 cash award. The winner in the public service category is awarded a gold medal.
With his win for “The Nickel Boys,” Colson Whitehead becomes the fourth fiction writer to win the prize two times (Booth Tarkington, William Faulkner and John Updike are the other three) and the first African American writer to pull off that feat.
Whitehead won his first Pulitzer for his 2016 best-selling novel “The Underground Railroad.”
According to nytimes.com, the project was attacked by conservatives including Newt Gingrich, as well as five history professors who signed a letter criticizing the initiative as praiseworthy but flawed in some details, citing a few points in Hannah-Jones’s essay. In a rebuttal the magazine’s editor in chief Jake Silverstein stood by the project.
Jericho Brown‘s “The Tradition” is his third collection of poetry and the first to be recognized by Pulitzer. According to nytimes.com, Brown said, “This book wouldn’t leave me alone. I was writing poems in elevators. I had to pull my car over to write poems. It was the most exhilarating and exhausting thing.”
The book covers subjects from the Trojan War to James Baldwin to the oft-unpunished violence that police commit against African-Americans. “The recognition feels good,” Mr. Brown, 44, said. “But I still have work to do. I want to continue being subversive, asking hard questions and answering them through poems.”
Michael R. Jackson, who won in the drama category for his off-Broadway musical “A Strange Loop,” is a gay, black, musical-theater writer who wrote a musical about a gay, black, musical-theater writer writing a musical about a gay, black, musical-theater writer.
Michael R. Jackson (photo via twitter.com)
“I was trying to speak about what it means to be a self in general, and a black and queer self in particular — just expressing the joys and sorrows of the experience of being in this particular body,” Mr. Jackson said in an interview. The musical is as zany as it sounds, according to nytimes.com — daring and self-lacerating, outrageous and moving.
In his jazz-infused opera “The Central Park Five,” Anthony Davis and librettist Richard Wesley tell the story of the black teenagers wrongfully convicted (and eventually exonerated) of the brutal 1989 assault of a white woman in New York.
“The Central Park Five” premiered in June 2019 at Long Beach Opera in California and steadily garnered acclaim.
In an interview before the premiere, Mr. Davis said, “I want people to experience the opera so they identify with them, so they think they’re one of the five.” To check out a small piece of Davis’ work, watch the trailer below:
Journalist, women’s rights and anti-lynching activist Ida B. Wells, as mentioned above, was awarded a posthumous (and long overdue) special citation from Pulitzer this year. Wells made it her life’s work to write about the racist violence in the South and to destroy the stereotype that was used as an excuse to lynch black men: That they were rapists.
Ms. Wells was 30 when she went on a mission to document and investigate lynchings after personal friends of hers were murdered in this manner. By talking to eye witnesses in numerous lynching cases, Wells discovered that in most lynchings, rape was not an accusation or was fabricated.
A full list of 2020’s Pulitzer Prize winners can be found here.