The 2019 Pulitzers — photos by Jose Lopez

jose at pulitzer01

 

By Caitlin Kelly

As some of you know, the Pulitzer Prizes were announced earlier this week from Columbia University in New York, where they are judged in two separate rounds, by peers in each category.

Named for their benefactor, Joseph Pulitzer (pronounced Puh-lits-ser), an amazing man born to a wealthy family in Hungary, who made his way to St. Louis, Missouri — and by 25 was publisher of a newspaper there. His later life was one of physical misery (despite huge professional success), blind and with terrible hearing problems.

Starting in 1912, the Pulitzer Prize, awarded for excellence in journalism, books, theater and other categories, began to be awarded.

This year — for the first time — the judging process (the first round) was photographed for posterity by another Pulitzer winner, my husband, Jose R. Lopez. He won one, in 2002, for the team photo editing of pictures of 9/11 by The New York Times.

The reason this was possible was thanks to a professional friendship of many years between Jose and Dana Canedy, former Times-woman who now runs the Pulitzers. Jose proposed the idea and she, and the board, agreed.

I’m impossibly proud of Jose’s ambition and skill, at an age when most of our industry competitors are half our age.

It’s also a time when even the President of the U.S. routinely sneers at journalists and his red-hatted supporters attack us physically for daring to exist, making it essential we all remember why journalism matters and continue to celebrate the best of it.

Here’s the list of this year’s winners.

I hope you enjoy his images — linked here — “a distinguished photojournalist”!

 

My tribe

By Caitlin Kelly

I spent yesterday at the annual conference in New York City of the American Society of Journalists and Authors, a 1,400-member group founded in 1947. There were writers there with Pulitzer prizes and best-selling books and HBO series and made-for-TV movies and options and…

A girl could feel mighty small in that crowd!

The New Yorker
The New Yorker (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Not to mention editors from publications like The Atlantic, Vanity Fair, New Republic and the New Yorker, four of the — arguably — most desirable markets for magazine writers in the U.S. (Only one of whom, from VF, was female.)

Instead, it was a terrific day of fierce hugs and nostalgia and excited shrieks over new books, and books currently being looked at by Major Publishers, and awards and pregnancies and a friend’s daughter accepted to a good (if costly!) college.

English: proportion of MRSA human blood isolat...
English: proportion of MRSA human blood isolates from participating countries in 2008 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There was Greg, who writes great stuff about nature and the outdoors, and Maryn, whose book Superbug, about MRSA (flesh eating bacteria) is absolutely riveting and terrifying, and Dan, with his new book about endangered wildlife of Vietnam.

In the hallway, I bumped into a woman with a suitcase and recognized Helaine Olen, whose fantastic book about how we’ve all been conned by the financial services industry I gave a rave review a few months ago in The New York Times.

Helaine Olen
Helaine Olen (Photo credit: New America Foundation)

I served on the ASJA board for six years and still volunteer as a trustee of the Writers Emergency Assistance Fund, which can write a check of up to $4,000 — a grant — to a needy non-fiction writer within a week. (If you can ever spare even $20 for the cause of decent journalism and the freelancers who produce so much of it, I’d be thrilled if you’d donate to WEAF.)

So I know lots of people through that, and have given back some of my time and talents to the industry I’ve been working in since 1978.

I went out for dinner that night with Maryn and three new-to-me women writers, all crazy accomplished and of course the conversation quickly turned to — female serial killers. That’s what happens when you get a bunch of newshounds at the same table; four of us had worked for major dailies and all miss the adrenaline rush of working a Big Story. So we do it now for magazines and books and newspapers and websites.

It was, in the most satisfying and nurturing way, a gathering of the tribe — people who had come from Geneva and Paris and San Diego and Toronto and Atlanta and Minneapolis and Vermont and New Hampshire and Maine, all hungry to be in some small, crowded stuffy meeting rooms to talk about what it is we do and how to do it better.

We write. We tell stories. We wake up bursting to share the cool, moving, sad, powerful, holy-shit-can-you-believe-it? richness of the world, all the untold tales that surround us every day, just there, waiting for us to capture, pitch, sell and tell them.

That’s my tribe.

What’s yours?

One Writer's Trajectory — Multiple Rejections, A $1,000 Advance — And Now A Pulitzer And A Guggenheim

HALLATROW, UNITED KINGDOM - DECEMBER 12:  Book...
Wanna be here, too? Image by Getty Images via Daylife

The life of a writer. So glamorous! Not.

Here’s today’s New York Times profile of author Paul Harding, whose novel “Tinkers”, recently won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction:

His manuscript languished in a desk drawer for nearly three years. But in perhaps the most dramatic literary Cinderella story of recent memory, Mr. Harding, 42, not only eventually found a publisher — the tiny Bellevue Literary Press — for the novel, “Tinkers,” he also went on to win the Pulitzer Prize for fiction last week. Within an hour of the Pulitzer announcement, Random House sent out a news release boasting of the two-book deal it had signed with Mr. Harding late in 2009. A few days later the Guggenheim Foundation announced he had received one of its prestigious fellowships.

The early rejection “was funny at the time,” Mr. Harding said. “And even funnier now.” Mr. Harding, a onetime drummer for a rock band, is far too discreet to name any of the agents or editors who wouldn’t touch his work a few years ago.

But he is quick to praise those who helped “Tinkers” become a darling of the independent bookstore circuit…

Although “Tinkers” sunk under the radar in some quarters (including The New York Times, which did not review it), it made several year-end best lists, including NPR’s best debut fiction and The New Yorker magazine’s list of reviewers’ favorites. According to Nielsen Bookscan, which tracks about 70 percent of retail sales, “Tinkers” sold 7,000 copies before the Pulitzer announcement.

So many people are dying to write a book and the widespread belief is that “everyone has a book in them.” We all have a spleen and an appendix, but they, too are maybe not best shared with the world, either. Writing programs and classes are perpetually jammed with would-be writers, many of whom will suffer similar fates to Harding, without the Cinderella finale. Fiction writers, except for a tiny few, must write the entire book on their own time and dime, then try to sell it.

My first book, (sent out as most non-fiction is in proposal form only), received 25 rejections before being bought by Pocket Books. So did my second, before an editor at Portfolio, a Penguin imprint, liked it at once. You need a soul of Teflon to play this game, and a tough, smart, strategic determined agent when you can find one, at least for non-fiction, who is your work’s fearless, clear-eyed advocate.

It’s a lovely, happy ending for Harding, and will surely spur thousands of others to believe, “Me, too!

Cross your fingers. And toes.

Katrina, Child Abuse, War — The Dart Center Honors The Best Journalism Covering Trauma

“Katrina is comparable in intensity to Hurrica...
Katrina. Image via Wikipedia

Here are the winners of the Dart Center Award for 2010.

The Dart Center is a unique and important resource, helping reporters, editors, photographers — anyone who chooses to cover dark, powerful, draining stories and who needs help, as many of us do afterward, in processing the secondary trauma we experience as a result.

My friend Maryn McKenna, whose new book, “Superbug”, I’ve blogged about here, on the flesh-eating bacteria MRSA, was a Dart fellow, and Sheri Fink, one of this year’s two Dart winners — who also picked up a Pulitzer Prize for her 13,o0o-word New York Times Magazine story about a New Orleans hospital and the decisions it made in the aftermath of Katrina — appeared on an American Society of Journalists and Authors panel I held on writing about tough subjects. Her award-winning first book, War Hospital, recreated the daily life of a hospital in Bosnia.

Secondary trauma is often inevitable, as those who record others’ experiences of pain, fear and violence absorb it into our own psyches, like indelible ink seeping into cloth. It becomes a part of us, forever, no matter how much we wish it did not. Caring carries a price.

For my 2004 book on women and guns, I read and heard about, and interviewed women who had shot and killed, who had been shot point-blank, whose husbands and sons had died by gunfire, at their own hands or those of others. As a result of thinking and reading and talking about violence for months, meeting women face to face who had suffered truly terrible experiences, I had nightmares and insomnia, classic symptoms of secondary trauma, which I never knew existed or had a name until a friend who works with prisoners told me about it.

Hard stories demand a blend of skills — a mental toughness allowing us to listen and watch, and tell the story, somewhat at odds with the empathy and emotional sensitivity that attracts us to these stories.  You have to learn to calibrate your compassion, as I wrote in an essay for the Center.

The aftereffects, let alone what we hear and see while reporting and editing them,  can scare good, brave, ambitious journalists away from tackling some of the work that most needs to be done, the stories that scare the hell out of most of us and need to be brought into the light.

I applaud Sheri and her colleagues, and am grateful the Center exists.

Deborah Howell, Journalism Pioneer, Aka 'The Dragon Lady' Dead At 68

From The New York Times:

At age 34, she became city editor of The Minneapolis Star, which later became The Star Tribune after a merger. Four years later she jumped to a rival paper, The St. Paul Pioneer Press, where she served as managing editor and then executive editor. At The Pioneer Press, she oversaw two projects that led the paper to win the first Pulitzer Prizes in the paper’s history, in 1986 and 1988.

Ms. Howell left The Pioneer Press in 1990 to become the chief of the Washington bureau for the Newhouse newspaper chain, a post she held for 15 years. Her staff at Newhouse News Service also won a Pulitzer while she was there.

From 2005 to 2008, she was the ombudsman of The Washington Post, winning friends and admirers despite having a job that meant publicly criticizing her colleagues.

“She was great fun to be around, and she had a reputation which she relished of being a great gossip,” said Fred Hiatt, the editorial page editor of The Post. “And it was true, but she was a gossip not in the mean-spirited sense, but simply because she was wildly interested in everything and everybody, and in people’s stories.”

Ms. Howell made a point of mentoring her reporters, helping them develop into book writers and often advising them years after they no longer worked for her. Among the authors she helped were John Sandford, Chuck Logan and H. G. Bissinger.

H.G. Bissinger is better known as Buzz, author of, among other books, “Friday Night Lights”, since made into a television series and film.

Though she had asthma, she seemed anything but frail — she was loud, blunt, funny, fiercely competitive and floridly profane. The contrasting sides of her personality earned her two nicknames in the Twin Cities: Mother Mary Deborah and the Dragon Lady.