Pulitzer Prize Spotlight: The History of the Awards

Pulitzer Prize Spotlight: The History of the Awards

This is the second in a series on the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. The first installment can be found here.

from the Pulitzer Prize website

Joseph Pulitzer - courtesy of the official Pulitzer Prize website.

In his will, Joseph Pulitzer established the Pulitzer Prize, in order to encourage the kind of excellence that he routinely upheld as a journalist.  He listed four awards for journalism, four in letters and drama, one in education, and four traveling scholarships.  The prizes in letters were specified to go to an American novel, an original American play performed in New York, a book on U.S. history, and a history of public service. Aware that these awards may need to be adjusted over time, Pulitzer created an advisory board that would have "power in its discretion to suspend or to change any subject or subjects, substituting, however, others in their places, if in the judgment of the board such suspension, changes, or substitutions shall be conducive to the public good or rendered advisable by public necessities, or by reason of change of time."  The board could also not give awards if its members didn't feel there was a worthy entry in a given year; this has happened more than once in the drama category. The board also would have veto power over the candidates put forth by the juries in each category. The number of awards the Pulitzer Prize Board gives out is now 21, and has added photography, poetry, and music as categories.

Each year, 102 judges on 20 juries must put forth three nominees in each of the 21 categories - out of the 2,400 entries.  The jury drama consists of three critics, an academic, and a playwright, who view each of the submitted productions, be they in New York or in theatres across the country.  While giving an award requires a majority vote, the board can without an award, switch nominations, or award the prize to an entry that wasn't nominated. Starting in 1984, winners have been awarded their prizes at a lunch at Columbia with the university's president, along with colleagues, board members, the School of Journalism faculty, and family members.

For more information about the process of the Pulitzer Prize, visit pulitzer.org.

The next installment will look at the first musical to win the Pulitzer: OF THEE I SING, by George and Ira Gershwin.