The Pulitzer Prize May Redefine What It Means to Be an “American Author”
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I don’t follow the Pulitzer awards in journalism, but I can say that the literary prizes are becoming (or have become) a bit of a joke. The prizes the Pulitzer awards for a “distinguished” work of fiction or volume of poetry are increasingly only awarded to works that present the “correct” political views on the supposedly pressing matters of the day, preferably written by sexual or racial minorities. This isn’t to say that the winners are undistinguished, but it’s obvious, based on the winners and finalists of the past five years or so, that certain ideas and certain kinds of writers receive preferential treatment.
It’s a private award, so the Pulitzer board can do whatever it wants, but the prestige of the award has taken a bit of a hit given the importance the board seems to have placed on politics.
Now the distinctiveness of the award is at risk, too. The awards for fiction and poetry—as well as for biography, memoir, autobiography, and nonfiction—have until now been limited to American citizens. But the board recently announced that it will examine whether the literary awards should be open to authors of any nationality:
The Pulitzer board will take up the citizenship rule at its meeting in mid-October, said Marjorie Miller, administrator for the prizes. “There is definitely consensus that citizenship is too restrictive a determination for Americanness,” she said.
Though publishers and writers had raised the issue in the past, Miller said, a few recent events influenced the board’s decision to put citizenship on its agenda. The jury members for the memoir or autobiography prize, awarded for the first time this year (to “Stay True,” by Hua Hsu), noted that during their deliberations to pick three finalists, the citizenship requirement felt too restrictive. Miller also cited an open letter published on LitHub in August, calling on the Pulitzers to recognize literature by noncitizens.
Ingrid Rojas Contreras, whose memoir The Man Who Could Move Clouds was a Pulitzer finalist, said she wrote the letter after learning about the citizenship rule in an op-ed by poet Javier Zamora in the Los Angeles Times. “After reading Javier’s piece, I thought of the many books I love written by undocumented writers, imagined all the books yet to come, and it pained me that these books were not and could not be considered for the prize,” she wrote in an email interview.
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