The 2019 Pulitzer Prizes, rewarding journalism and cultural excellence, were handed out on Monday, with a special emphasis going to investigations involving Donald Trump and reporting on gun safety issues in the aftermath of mass shootings.
A rare, posthumous citation was made to Aretha Franklin “for her indelible contribution to American music and culture for more than five decades”.
Pulitzer administrator Dana Canedy said the 18-member Pulitzer Prize Board had kept in mind the country’s tense political landscape when selecting the winners.
“There was so much extraordinary work submitted,” Canedy said, adding: “Even in a year when journalism is yet again under relentless assault, including from the highest office in the land, and when the security threats remain high for journalists simply seeking to do their jobs.”
Winners in the field of news reporting included the Wall Street Journal for its investigations of hush money payments orchestrated by the president’s former lawyer, Michael Cohen, to silence women who claimed to have had affairs with the Donald Trump before he was the US president. The New York Times was awarded a Pulitzer in explanatory reporting for its investigation of the Trump family wealth and tax arrangements designed to skirt inheritance tax laws.
Trump has denied having affairs with the women in question, Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal and rejected any impropriety around his tax arrangements, describing the New York Times story as a “hit piece”.
Three Pulitzers were awarded to coverage of gun control issues, including a public service award to the South Florida Sun Sentinel for its coverage of the mass shooting at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas high school in Parkland in February last year, when 17 students and staff were killed.
The prize for breaking news reporting went to The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette for coverage of last October’s mass shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, during which 11 were killed, while The Capital Gazette in Annapolis, Maryland, was given a special citation for its coverage and the staff’s courage in the face of a massacre that claimed five staff members of its own newsroom at the hands of a gunman who burst into the news room.
The Pulitzer for investigative reporting was awarded to three Los Angeles Times reporters for their coverage of George Tyndall, a gynecologist accused of abusing hundreds of students at the University of Southern California.
In the aftermath of the series, the university’s president resigned, and more than 650 women have sued USC, alleging the school failed to protect them from sexual abuse. Tyndall has denied the allegations.
The award for international reporting went to a team of Associated Press journalists for their work documenting torture, graft and starvation in Yemen’s brutal civil war.
Reporter Maggie Michael, photographer Nariman El-Mofty and videographer Maad al-Zikry spent a year producing a series of stories that told of how people in parts of Yemen were reduced to eating leaves while corrupt officials diverted international food aid.
Reuters was also recognized for international reporting for covering the brutal crackdown on Rohingya Muslims by security forces in Buddhist-majority Myanmar. The story cost two reporters, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, their liberty. Both are serving a seven-year sentence after being convicted of violating Myanmar’s Secrets Act.
In the cultural field, Jackie Sibblies Drury’s play Fairview, which examined white people’s obsession with African American stereotypes, has won the Pulitzer for drama. The board called it a “hard-hitting drama” that brought “audiences into the actors’ community to face deep-seated prejudices”.
For literature, Richard Powers’ novel The Overstory won the fiction prize, while David Blight’s biography of Frederick Douglass won for the best work of history.
The biography award went to Jeffrey Stewart’s The New Negro: The Life of Alain Locke, and Eliza Griswold’s Amity and Prosperity: One Family and the Fracturing of America won for general nonfiction. The poetry award was given to Forrest Gander’s elegiac Be With and the music Pulitzer went to Ellen Reid’s opera prism.
The honorary award given to Aretha Franklin, who died last August, is fairly rare. In 2007 a similar citation was given to jazz composer John Coltrane; the following year one was given to musician Bob Dylan; and in 2010, country music legend Hank Williams was honored.
Each recipient receives $15,000 in award money.