These Creators of Color and Race-Focused Works Won Pulitzer Prizes

By Sameer Rao Apr 11, 2017

A novel reimagining the Underground Railroad as an actual train, a multi-part investigation into NYPD forced evictions and a play depicting worsening racial tension amid economic decline all earned Pulitzer Prizes yesterday (April 10).

Prize administrator Mike Pride announced winners in the 14 journalism and seven arts and letters categories during a ceremony at New York City’s Columbia University yesterday. Several people of color earned individual prizes:

  • Criticism: Hilton Als of The New Yorker for reviews and analyses of various dramatic productions, including "The Color Purple" and "Long Day’s Journey into Night," that examine race, discrimination and identity within American theater’s changing dynamics
  • Fiction: "The Underground Railroad," by Colson Whitehead, which depicts an enslaved Black woman’s flight to freedom through an alternative antebellum South using an actual subterranean rail network
  • Drama: "Sweat," by Lynn Nottage, a play that animates characters’ descent into depression, racism and antagonism while they endure deindustrialization and unemployment in Reading, Pennsylvania
  • Biography or Autobiography: "The Return: Fathers, Sons and the Land in Between," by Hisham Matar, a Libyan author chronicling his family’s return to his home country nearly two decades after his father’s kidnapping during Muammar Gaddafi’s autocratic regime
  • Poetry: "Olio," by Tyehimba Jess, a lyric recollection of little-known Black church and blues musicians between the Civil War and World War I
  • Music: "Angel’s Bone," by Du Yun, an operatic composition addressing contemporary human trafficking 

In addition, these editorial boards and individual White writers addressed historic and current racial justice issues in their winning investigations and stories:

  • Public Service: The New York Daily News and ProPublica for a 10-month investigation, largely conducted by reporter Sarah Ryley, uncovering the NYPD’s abuse of eviction regulations to evict hundreds of tenants in predominantly working-class Black and Brown communities
  • Breaking News: The East Bay Times’ staff for up-to-the-minute coverage of a fire at the "Ghost Ship," a warehouse and art space frequented by a creative community including numerous LBGTQ people of color, that killed 36 people in December 2016
  • Editorial Cartooning: The Miami Herald’s Jim Morin for numerous political cartoons, including this one about the Flint water crisis
  • History: "Blood in the Water: The Attica Prison Uprising of 1971 and Its Legacy" by Heather Ann Thompson, which recounts the resistance and violent state suppression of nearly 1,300 incarcerated men, including many Black and Latinx ones, at upstate New York’s Attica Correctional Facility over abysmal living conditions and mistreatment

Read the full list of winners and finalists here.