Pulitzers: Making Up for a Sexist Past?

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The winners of the 2014 Pulitzer Prize were announced this week, acknowledging the best in journalism as well as the arts. Donna Tartt won the prize for fiction for her third novel, The Goldfinch. The 784-page bestseller, which took Tartt eleven years to finish, is a Dickensian tale of a teenage boy orphaned when he’s caught in a terrorist bombing at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. “Often the Pulitzer doesn’t go necessarily to the most popular book of the year,” says critic Rachel Syme, “but The Goldfinch seemed like the novel of the year.” Kurt Andersen points out books of epic length and scope were a trend this year: a finalist for the award, Philipp Meyer’s The Son, is a multigenerational saga of Texas from the days of Comanche.

It’s not just the Pulitzers that seem taken with thick novels — Syme believes their popularity is a sign of the times. “You have the two extremes happening in culture,” she explains. “There’s this lack of attention span that people seem to have because of the Internet; you have time to read a tweet and that’s all you have [time for] during the day. But then when people are turning to books they’re turning to these 750-1,000 page tomes. And people keep reading them.”

Women swept the drama category, with winner Annie Baker (The Flick), and finalists Madeleine George (The (curious case of the) Watson Intelligence), and Lisa Kron and Jeanine Tesori (Fun Home). Is the Pulitzer committee making up for years of overlooking female artists? Syme tells Kurt, “I’d like to say as a feminist that it would be on merit completely, but I think there is a sense of acknowledgement that in the past it hasn’t necessarily been very balanced in terms of gender.”

Socially conscious themes dominated many of the awardees. John Luther Adams, a longtime environmentalist, won the prize for music for his Become Ocean, which the Pulitzer board called “a haunting orchestral work that suggests a relentless tidal surge, evoking thoughts of melting polar ice and rising sea levels.” The biography award went to a book about Margaret Fuller, the 19th century feminist activist. And the Edward Snowden-NSA coverage took the Pulitzer for public service in journalism.

With few exceptions, the Pulitzers, almost a century old, cover work in print. Given their significance, Kurt wonders if, in this age of broadcasting and the Internet, they should be updated to accommodate other media? Syme thinks so. “One of the things that the Internet has brought us is this amazing new age of essayists and I would love to see a Pulitzer for maybe a first essay collection as well.”

What do you think of this year’s Pulitzer winners?  Was anyone robbed of an award? Who won but shouldn’t have? Tell us in a Comment below.

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