in the Sun
Who would have
thought Florida was a haven for winners
of Joseph Pulitzer's prestigious prize?
usually calls to mind images of oranges, sun-drenched beaches, Jai
Lai matches, bikini-clad spring-breakers and retirees from New York.
Turns out the state also has been literally crawling with Pulitzer
Prize winners. They've been spotted everywhere, from Pensacola to
Key West. According to the tourist literature, Key West has been
called home by more of them both per capita and per acre
than any other place on the planet.
mechanics of the prizes, which were first awarded by Joseph Pulitzer
(right) in 1917, are fairly complicated but it's fair to say the
Prizes fall into two categories, "journalism" and "other."
The "other" includes awards in poetry, fiction, history,
biography and music. Floridians have captured around 50 Pulitzers
in each of the two categories. The exact number is difficult to
calculate; for example, three-time winner Jeff MacNelly (1972, 1978,
1985) regularly wintered in Key West but received his Pulitzers
for political cartoons in the Richmond News Leader and the Chicago
Tribune. MacNelly also was the creator of the hugely popular cartoon
earliest Pulitzer Prize winner associated with Florida was the poet
Edna St. Vincent Millay, known to her friends as Vincent, who won
her Pulitzer in 1923 and for a time lived on Sanibel Island. The
only manuscript of her Conversations at Midnight burned in a fire
at the Palms Hotel on Sanibel in 1936, forcing her to recreate the
poems in time for publication the following year. Sanibel's other
noted prizewinner, the editorial cartoonist Jay Norwood "Ding"
Darling (1924, 1943), took the first of his Pulitzers in 1924. Darling
was also an impassioned conservationist and his efforts to protect
Sanibel's wetlands are evidenced in the J.N. "Ding" Darling
Wildlife Refuge that today covers one third of the island. That
same year the poet Robert Frost (Key West) was awarded the first
of his four Pulitzers (1924, 1931, 1937, 1943).
most recent prizewinner (2003) was the Cuban-born, Miami-raised
playwright Nilo Cruz. His Anna in the Tropics, a romantic drama
about a family of cigar makers set in Ybor City (Tampa) in 1930,
was commissioned and premiered (2002) by the New Theatre in Coral
Gables. Each year more than 2000 applications for Pulitzers are
received by the Columbia School of Journalism in New York City and
passed on to a distinguished panel of judges who then make only
three nominations in each of the 21 Pulitzer categories. Being an
also-ran can be almost as prestigious as winning in the Pulitzer
competition. The playwright Edward Albee (Coconut Grove), already
a three-time Pulitzer winner (1967, 1975, 1994), was a "nominated
finalist" along with Nilo Cruz in 2003.
Cruz's Anna in the Tropics was the first Latino play to earn the
prize, but it was only one of a number of Florida firsts in the
Pulitzer world. Edna St. Vincent Millay was the first woman to win
a Pulitzer. In 1983, Florida composer Ellen Taaffe Zwilich became
the first woman to win the prize in Music. Zwilich, who teaches
music composition at Florida State, also holds the first Composer's
Chair established at Carnegie Hall in New York.
best-known living Pulitzer Prize winner is of course the Miami Herald's
inimitable Dave Barry who captured his Pulitzer in 1988, "for
his consistently effective use of humor as a device for presenting
fresh insights into serious concerns." The year before Barry
received his prize he wrote about the Pulitzers in his column: "At
certain times each year, we journalists do almost nothing except
apply for the Pulitzers and several dozen other major prizes. During
these times you could walk right into most newsrooms and commit
a multiple ax murder naked, and it wouldn't get reported in the
paper, because the reporters and editors would all be too busy filling
out prize applications. 'Hey!' they'd yell at you. 'Watch it! You're
getting blood on my application!'" At that time, Barry didn't
think much of his chances to cop a Pulitzer: "Unfortunately,
the only category I'd be eligible for is called 'Distinguished Social
Commentary,' which is a real problem, because of the kinds of issues
I generally write about. 'This isn't Distinguished Social Commentary!'
the Pulitzer judges would say. 'This is about goat boogers!'"
Barry obviously was wrong about the judges and by extension wrong
about Joseph Pulitzer, the man who dreamed up the Prizes and whose
fortune still funds them. Pulitzer wouldn't have had the slightest
problem with a story about goat boogers.
in Hungary in 1847, Joseph Pulitzer came to the United States in
his late teens and served for a year in the Union Army's Lincoln
Cavalry before becoming a journalist. At 25, he switched from reporting
to publishing and in 1878 bought the nearly bankrupt St. Louis Post-Dispatch
which he turned around in short order. Five years later he bought
the New York World and proceeded to boost its circulation to more
than 600,000, apparently by bedazzling readers with an odd combination
of hard-hitting investigative reporting and a brand of unbridled
sensationalism seldom seen even today. Pulitzer's rival in those
days was William Randolph Hearst, the owner of the New York Journal,
and the two fought a bitter circulation war during the last years
of the 19th Century.
1895, Pulitzer's New York World began running a cartoon strip by
R. F. Outcault called "The Yellow Kid" that quickly became
a national sensation. Hearst promptly offered Outcault substantially
more money and hired him away from Pulitzer who, without skipping
a beat, hired a new cartoonist to continue the strip for the World.
For three years "The Yellow Kid" ran in both the World
and the Journal along with a record amount of exaggeration,
bickering and outright fabrication and the papers became
known as "the yellow papers." By the turn of the Century
the phrase had evolved into simply "yellow journalism."
Joseph Pulitzer died in 1911. In his will he bestowed an endowment
of $2 Million for the establishment of a School of Journalism, one-fourth
of which was to be "applied to prizes or scholarships for the
encouragement of public service, public morals, American literature
and the advancement of education."
Florida newspapers and/or their journalists (the prizes can be awarded
to individuals, groups or entire staffs) have earned Pulitzers since
the prizes were first awarded in 1917 the Gainesville Sun,
the Jacksonville Journal, the Miami Herald, the Miami News (formerly
the Miami Daily News), the Orlando Sentinel, the Palm Beach Post,
the Panama City News-Herald, the St. Petersburg Times and the Tampa
Tribune. The Miami Herald is by far the numerical winner with 17;
the St. Petersburg Times and the Miami News are tied for second
with five each. With the exception of Dave Barry, Florida's journalism
winners may not be national celebrities but the work they produced
has had international impact. Just a few notable examples: Howard
Van Smith's articles in the Miami News about conditions in a migrant
labor camp (1959), Hal Hendrix's reports in the Miami News on the
Soviet Union's installation of missile launching pads in Cuba (1963),
Dallas Kinney's photographs of migrant workers in the Palm Beach
Post (1970) and Liz Balmaseda's commentary on political and social
conditions in Cuba for the Miami Herald (1993). The last Florida
journalism Pulitzers (2001) were won by the staff of the Miami Herald
for its coverage of the Elian Gonzalez story and by Miami-based
Alan Diaz of the Associated Press for his breathtaking photograph
of armed U.S. federal agents seizing the Gonzalez boy from a closet
in his relatives' Miami home.
for Pulitzer winning Florida authors of books, poems and plays,
Key West wins the numerical competition hands down. The most widely
acclaimed authors on the Key West list are the poet Robert Frost,
the novelist Ernest Hemingway (1953) and the playwright Tennessee
Williams (1948, 1955). Hemingway lived in Key West for 10 years
during which time he worked on For Whom the Bell Tolls, A Farewell
to Arms, and To Have and Have Not. His Pulitzer, curiously, was
for The Old Man in the Sea, generally thought to be a lesser work.
Tennessee Williams said about his Pulitzer winning A Streetcar Named
Desire: "We arrived in Key West and occupied a two-room suite
on the top of the Hotel La Concha and it was there that I really
began to get Streetcar into shape. It went like a house on fire."
Other authors on the Key West Pulitzer list include the poets Elizabeth
Bishop (1956), Richard Wilbur (1957, 1989) and James Merrill (1977),
novelists John Hersey (1945) and Alison Lurie (1985), the playwright
James Kirkwood (1976), author of A Chorus Line, and the biographer
Joseph P. Lash (1972), author of Eleanor and Franklin.
in the state the Pulitzer winning author list includes novelists
James Gould Cozzens (Stuart, 1949), Alan Drury (Maitland, 1960),
John P. Marquand (Hobe Sound, 1938), Marjorie Kinnan Rawling (Cross
Creek, 1939) and Edwin O'Connor (West Palm Beach, 1962), poets Richard
Eberhart (Gainesville, 1966, 1977), Donald Justice (Gainesville,
1980) and William Rose Benet (St. Augustine, 1942), playwrights
Thornton Wilder (St. Augustine, 1928, 1939, 1943) and George Abbot
(Miami Beach, 1960) and historian MacKinlay Kantor (Sarasota, 1956).
The list is not all-inclusive. There is not sufficient space here
even if it were possible to compile one. The best place to get the
complete lowdown on the history and rules of the Pulitzer Prizes
to dig out who won which Pulitzer when and for what
is the official Pulitzer Prize web site at www.pulitzer.org.