Fishin’ With Jon: the 2017 Pulitzer Prizes and you

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Weary from the throes of sickness, I curled up in the fetal position to watch the announcements of the Pulitzer Prize winners for 2017—it always takes place in late spring, typically April or May, at least since 1990.
I know what you’re thinking: “But Jon, isn’t the Pulitzer Prize just a liberal, circle-jerk bubble and isn’t that part of the problem with our current political climate, the sort of obsessive, self-congratulatory award show cycles and praise?”
Okay…but…shut up. It’s important, very important, to give credit to the excellent work going on right now in writing.

The primary award for Journalism went to:
“New York Daily News/ProPublica” in the category of Public Service for “…uncovering, primarily through the work of reporter Sarah Ryley, widespread abuse of eviction rules by the police to oust hundreds of people, most of them poor minorities.”

“The East Bay Times” in the category of Breaking News Reporting for their coverage of the Ghost Ship DIY fire disaster last year.

For National/International Reporting, Unsurprisingly the two mammoth Journalism dynasties, “The New York Times” and “The Washington Post” took the crown. So much for the “failing” “New York Times,” I guess, who incidentally reported 30 percent increases in stock value since the election. Eat your heart out, Donald.

There are plenty of other categories (21 total) and you can see them all in detail at Pulitzer.org, but I’d like to focus on some of the more literary awards for the remainder of my rant.

The big award of course is Fiction, and the winner this year was “The Underground Railroad” by Colson Whitehead. Whitehead’s novel has been universally praised, President Obama and Oprah both called it one of their favorite books of 2016, and it won a National Book Award. I have not read it, so I can’t comment, but I am disappointed that finalist Adam Haslett didn’t win. His novel “Imagine Me Gone” was a gripping, shattering depiction of loss and grief in a gruff Faulknerian prose. It kind of sucks, because Haslett lost out on the National Book Award also to Whitehead. But I’m sure they’re both great books.

For Poetry, Tyehimba Jess’ “Olio” took the prize. Jess is a rare poet, who has allegiances in both the world of academic, intellectual poetry circles as well as the sports-esque, often churlish, slam poetry. This was a little bit of a surprise—I think a lot of people were anticipating Adrienne Rich’s posthumous work, “Collected Poems: 1950-2012” which would have been a big way to solidify the legacy of the late poet. Rich, incidentally, famously declined the National Medal of Arts, to protest then-Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich’s attempts to end the National Endowment for the Arts. Yes my friends, the GOP was just as insidiously anti-culture/anti-intellectual in 1997 as they are now, what a shocker.

Anyway, I wouldn’t doubt the jury who decided for this category—the poetry chair was Jane Hirshfield, a really delightful poet in her own right.

E. Jason Wambsgans, a photographer who works for the “Chicago Tribune,” won the Pulitzer for best Feature Photography, for his achingly touching portrait of a recovering 10-year-old boy and his mother after a shooting in Chicago. While Wambsgans’ photography is stunning, it is also worth noting that both of the other finalists for this category’s subject matter was definitely more important of recognition, even if the photography was slightly lesser, that subject being victims of the Flint Michigan Water Crisis. In case you’re wondering, yes, they still don’t have clean water.

Part of what makes the Pulitzers’ enjoyable is who you don’t know. I had never read “The Sympathizer” by Viet Thanh Nguyen until it won the Pulitzer last year. Now, I love it and have eagerly purchased all three of his books. His latest, “The Immigrants” is one of the best so far this year. Maybe these awards don’t mean the world to everyone…but, it’s okay to enjoy things.

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