A Day at the Pulitzer’s

On April 15 the Pulitzer Prizes announced their selected winners and finalists for 2019.


Gianna Jirak, Fashion and Lifestyle Editor

The Gothic architecture of Columbia University’s graduate journalism building clashed with the gentrified city that enveloped it. I had expected an elegant building for such prestigious awards, but certainly not the graduate journalism building, which itself looked as if it could fit in with the Greco-Roman style buildings in D.C. Nonetheless, it was the perfect place to hold the awards. The building radiated knowledge and deep-rooted intellectualism, adding onto the significance of the legacy it held of being the first graduate journalism building in the United States. The journalism school that Pulitzer himself founded.

Related image
The front of Columbia University’s graduate journalism building. There is a large statue in front of it, along with columns decorating the building.

I strode up the stone steps and into the marble encrusted lobby, where a bust of the man of the hour, Joseph Pulitzer, stood proud beside a plaque. I was then directed to an elevator to seize my opportunity to meet the woman of the hour; Dana Canedy, the administrator of the Pulitzer Prizes. 

Canedy herself is a 2001 Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist for co-writing the series “How Race Is Lived in America,” as well as the first woman, the first person of color, and the youngest person to ever hold the position of administrator of the prizes.

Upon arriving, I was greeted warmly by Canedy. We chatted about the upcoming movie adaptation of her book, A Journal for Jordan, her ill son who was unable to make it as planned, and about any questions I had about becoming a journalist. 

Unlike most, the Pulitzer’s doesn’t release nominees in advance. Everything is announced triumphantly on the historic day of as to avoid lobbying, which meant none of my questions about the chosen finalists were directly answered. Canedy expressed that everything was supposed to be a tremendous surprise.

After our chat, I was promptly escorted to the award room and sat among the already lively crowd. The press, college students, high school students and nominees alike sat eagerly as the bulky camera was set up to prepare for the live stream. Eventually, Canedy entered and stood stoically on the podium, queuing the live stream and the commencement of the awards to begin.

She spoke for a moment about an entry that she admired; the 17 obituaries submitted by the student newspaper of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Canedy said, “The Eagle Eye’s submission stated that the student reporters and editors had to “put aside our grief and recognize our roles as both survivors, journalists and loved ones of the deceased.” 

Image result for dana canedy 2019 pulitzers
Dana Canedy speaking at the 2019 Pulitzer Prize awards.

“There is hope in their example, even as security threats to journalists are greater than ever. And there is hope even as some degrade the media as an enemy to the very democracy it serves,” said Canedy, who proceeded to speak also of the journalists who’ve been killed for simply doing their jobs. She spoke of the journalists gunned down in Annapolis, Maryland. She spoke of Jamal Khashoggi, who was murdered in Turkey. She spoke of the endurance of the press, emphasizing that there could be no democracy without it.

After her opening remarks, the announcement of the winners began. The South Florida Sun Sentinel captured the most prestigious award of Public Service, due to their reporting on “failings by school and law enforcement officials before and after the deadly shooting rampage at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.” Journalists from Reuters seized two prizes for International Reporting and Breaking Photography, and the New York Times, as well as the Washington Postwere finalists for and won many awards.

Outside of journalism, The Overstory by Richard Powers captured the coveted prize for fiction, it was described by Canedy as, “An ingeniously structured narrative that branches and canopies like the trees at the core of the story whose wonder and connectivity echo those of the humans living amongst them. 

Image result for the overstory by richard powers
An image of the book The Overstory by Richard Powers, the picture includes plants the decorate around the book.

For drama, Fairview by Jackie Sibblies Drury won. The play was described as, “A hard-hitting drama that examines race in a highly conceptual, layered structure, ultimately bringing audiences into the actors’ community to face deep-seated prejudices.”

Image result for fairview jackie sibblies drury
An image telling of Fairview, a play by Jackie Drury, winning the 2019 Pulitzer for drama. The image includes a young black woman with braids in her hair.

The last award, the prize for music, was given to Prism, by Ellen Ried. The opera was described as, “A bold new operatic work that uses sophisticated vocal writing and striking instrumental timbres to confront difficult subject matter: the effects of sexual and emotional abuse.

Image result for prism ellen reid
An image advertising the opera Prism. The image includes two woman in beds, one sitting up and one lying down.

Besides general awards, the jury of the Pulitzer Prizes also gives out special citations to recognize outstanding achievement of those deemed worthy of having accomplished such. There were two citations very wisely given, one to Aretha Franklin for her valuable contributions to American music. As well as another to the Capital Gazette in Annapolis, Maryland for their brave response in the aftermath of the shooting that occurred in their office. The publication graciously received a 100,000 dollar bequest from the board to steadfastly maintain their journalistic mission in the wake of the shooting that occurred in their newsroom.

After the award presentation, Canedy answered questions from the press and enthusiastic crowd. One high school student inquired about whether they would ever create a specific category for student journalism. 

Canedy explained students could already submit their work, and the work in question would fall into any other journalism category. This powerfully conveyed the feeling that the Pulitzer’s weren’t exclusive and limited awards that only professionals can reach. The room was suffused with college and high school students, and that answer seemed to leave them with a sense of encouragement.

Therefore, if you fortunately possess an excellent piece of creative work that you sincerely believe is Pulitzer worthy, submit it. Even though the awards are distinguished, that doesn’t mean they are exclusive to the ones at the top of their field. 

The rest of the selected finalists and winners can be found on the Pulitzer Prize website, at pulitzer.org

*The Pulitzer Prize is an award for achievement in journalism and the arts created by Joseph Pulitzer in 1917. The awards are administered by Columbia University, and are awarded yearly in twenty-one categories. The publication that wins the award for public service gets the highest honor, a gold metal.