Every January, the Idaho Falls Public Library starts a series of book discussions in coordination with the state-sponsored Let’s Talk About It program. This book discussion program focuses on titles selected by scholars and centered around themes. Our discussion group explores one of these themes by relating the reading to historical trends and events, other works of literature, and philosophical and ethical considerations.
Let’s Talk About It
Theme: Pulitzer Prizes
Biweekly on Thursdays, January 24 through March 21
Second Floor Program Area
Idaho Falls Public Library
Pick up your book set when you sign up at our second-floor programming desk. Participation is free of charge. For more information, call 208-612-8460.
|All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr
January 24, 2018
|Empire Falls, by Richard Russo
February 7, 2018
|March, by Geraldine Brooks
February 21, 2018
|The Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck
March 7, 2018
|To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
March 21, 2018
Pulitzer Prizes Theme Essay
By Seymour Topping and edited by Sig Gissler, from www.pulitzer.org (reposted from the ICfL)
In the latter years of the 19th century, Joseph Pulitzer stood out as the very embodiment of American journalism. Hungarian-born, an intense indomitable figure, Pulitzer was the most skillful of newspaper publishers, a passionate crusader against dishonest government, a fierce, hawk-like competitor who did not shrink from sensationalism in circulation struggles, and a visionary who richly endowed his profession.
His innovative New York World and St. Louis Post-Dispatch reshaped newspaper journalism. Pulitzer was the first to call for the training of journalists at the university level in a school of journalism. And certainly, the lasting influence of the Pulitzer Prizes on journalism, literature, music, and drama is to be attributed to his visionary acumen.
Pulitzer’s Flexible Will
In writing his 1904 will, which made provision for the establishment of the Pulitzer Prizes as an incentive to excellence, Pulitzer specified solely four awards in journalism, four in letters and drama, one for education, and four traveling scholarships. In letters, prizes were to go to an American novel, an original American play performed in New York, a book on the history of the United States, an American biography, and a history of public service by the press.
But, sensitive to the dynamic progression of his society, Pulitzer made provision for broad changes in the system of awards. He established an overseer advisory board and willed it “power in its discretion to suspend or to change any subject or subjects, substituting, however, others in their places, if in the judgment of the board such suspension, changes, or substitutions shall be conducive to the public good or rendered advisable by public necessities, or by reason of change of time.” He also empowered the board to withhold any award where entries fell below its standards of excellence. The assignment of power to the board was such that it could also overrule the recommendations for awards made by the juries subsequently set up in each of the categories. Thus, the Plan of Award, which has governed the prizes since their inception in 1917, has been revised frequently. The Board, later renamed the Pulitzer Prize Board, has increased the number of awards to 21 and introduced poetry, music, and photography as subjects, while adhering to the spirit of the founder’s will and its intent.
Award changes beginning in 1997
The board typically exercised its broad discretion in 1997, the 150th anniversary of Pulitzer’s birth, in two fundamental respects. It took a significant step in recognition of the growing importance of work being done by newspapers in online journalism. Beginning with the 1999 competition, the board sanctioned the submission by newspapers of online presentations as supplements to print exhibits in the Public Service category. The board left open the distinct possibility of further inclusions in the Pulitzer process of online journalism as the electronic medium developed. Thus, with the 2006 competition, the Board allowed online content in all 14 of its journalism categories. For 2009, the competition was expanded to include online-only news organizations. For 2011, the Plan of Award was revised to encourage more explicitly the entry of online and multimedia material, with the board seeking to honor the best work in whatever form is the most effective. And for 2012, the board adopted an all-digital entry and judging system, replacing the historic reliance on submission of scrapbooks.
The other major change was in music, a category that was added to the Plan of Award for prizes in 1943. The prize always had gone to composers of classical music. The definition and entry requirements of the music category beginning with the 1998 competition were broadened to attract a wider range of American music. In an indication of the trend toward bringing mainstream music into the Pulitzer process, the 1997 prize went to Wynton Marsalis’s “Blood on the Fields,” which has strong jazz elements, the first such award.
The formal announcement of the prizes, made each April, states that the awards are made by the president of Columbia University on the recommendation of the Pulitzer Prize board. This formulation is derived from the Pulitzer will, which established Columbia as the seat of the administration of the prizes. Today, in fact, the independent board makes all the decisions relative to the prizes. In his will Pulitzer bestowed an endowment on Columbia of $2,000,000 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.”
In doing so, he stated: “I am deeply interested in the progress and elevation of journalism, having spent my life in that profession, regarding it as a noble profession and one of unequaled importance for its influence upon the minds and morals of the people. I desire to assist in attracting to this profession young men of character and ability, also to help those already engaged in the profession to acquire the highest moral and intellectual training.” In his ascent to the summit of American journalism, Pulitzer himself received little or no assistance. He prided himself on being a self-made man, but it may have been his struggles as a young journalist that imbued him with the desire to foster professional training.
The Let’s Talk About It program is sponsored by The Idaho Humanities Council, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and a great from the Institute of Museum and Library Services. It is administered by the Idaho Commission for Libraries.