Details and reaction on the winners of the 2014 Pulitzer Prizes:
PUBLIC SERVICE: The Guardian US and The Washington Post.
Four reporters for the two publications won for revealing massive U.S. government surveillance based on thousands of documents from Edward Snowden and first published last June. The winning entries about the NSA’s spy programs revealed that the government has collected information about millions of Americans’ phone calls and emails based on its classified interpretation of laws passed after the Sept. 11 attacks.
Revealing the documents “created one of the most significant debates of this century,” Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger said.
“It’s the job of a journalist to create and stimulate a debate, and we feel this is a public service,” he added. “It would be difficult to deny that a rich and passionate debate has been stimulated by the coverage of what Snowden revealed.”
BREAKING NEWS REPORTING: The Boston Globe Staff.
The paper was lauded for its “exhaustive and empathetic coverage of the Boston Marathon bombings and the ensuing manhunt that enveloped the city, using photography and a range of digital tools to capture the full impact of the tragedy.”
After the paper’s win was announced, editor Brian McGrory asked the staff to observe a moment of “quiet reflection and remembrance” for those affected by the bombing.
INVESTIGATIVE REPORTING: Chris Hamby of The Center for Public Integrity, Washington, D.C.
Hamby’s reports showed “how some lawyers and doctors rigged a system to deny benefits to coal miners stricken with black lung disease, resulting in remedial legislative efforts,” the Pulitzer judges wrote.
EXPLANATORY REPORTING: Eli Saslow of The Washington Post.
Saslow was honored for “his unsettling and nuanced reporting on the prevalence of food stamps in post-recession America, forcing readers to grapple with issues of poverty and dependency.”
LOCAL REPORTING: Will Hobson and Michael LaForgia of the Tampa Bay Times, Florida.
Hobson and LaForgia discovered that county officials were paying millions of dollars to slumlords to house the homeless. In one case, the reporters revealed the county sent sick and dying homeless to an assisted living facility so dangerous the state had taken its license.
“These reporters faced long odds. They had to visit dicey neighborhoods late at night, they had to encourage county officials to be courageous and come forth with records and in the end what they were ultimately doing was standing up for people who had no champion and no advocate,” said Neil Brown, the Tampa Bay Times’ editor and vice president. “These were people who trusted the county to help them in the worst of circumstances but instead the county was letting them down.”
NATIONAL REPORTING: David Philipps of The Gazette, Colorado Springs, Colo.
Philipps’ investigation found that the U.S. Army has discharged escalating numbers of traumatized combat veterans who commit crimes at home — and in ways that make them ineligible for Veterans Administration benefits that include treatment for combat-related psychiatric disorders. The Gazette series found that more than 13,000 veterans have been discharged since 2006 under a provision that allows for resignation in lieu of prosecution.
“I hope that the new exposure causes Congress to take another look at this issue,” Philipps said.
INTERNATIONAL REPORTING: Jason Szep and Andrew R.C. Marshall of Reuters.
The pair’s “courageous reports” shed light on “the violent persecution of the Rohingya, a Muslim minority in Myanmar that, in efforts to flee the country, often falls victim to predatory human-trafficking networks.”
“For two years, Reuters reporters have tirelessly investigated terrible human-rights abuses in a forgotten corner of the Muslim world, bringing the international dimensions of the oppressed Rohingya of Myanmar to global attention,” Editor-in-Chief Stephen J. Adler said in a statement. “We are immensely proud that this high-impact series was selected as Reuters’ first-ever Pulitzer Prize win for text reporting.”
FEATURE WRITING: No award.
COMMENTARY: Stephen Henderson of the Detroit Free Press.
His columns on his hometown’s financial crisis were “written with passion and a stirring sense of place, sparing no one in their critique,” the prize panel noted.
CRITICISM: Inga Saffron of The Philadelphia Inquirer.
Saffron’s criticism of architecture “blends expertise, civic passion and sheer readability.”
“Every one of these faceless garage doors is like a dagger in the body of the city,” she wrote in May.
“It’s nice to be honored by your colleagues, but you still have to go out and make the case for good planning and good urbanism,” she said Monday, expressing shock and gratitude. “There are still a lot of big battles to be fought in this city.”
EDITORIAL WRITING: The Editorial Staff of The Oregonian, Portland.
The paper was cited for “lucid editorials that explain the urgent but complex issue of rising pension costs.”
“The editorials were very straightforward, informative, enlightening and pointed at times, as editorials should be,” Oregonian Media Group president N. Christian Anderson III said Monday.
EDITORIAL CARTOONING: Kevin Siers of The Charlotte Observer, North Carolina.
In an August cartoon, Siers depicts “Tonight Show” host Jay Leno urging President Barack Obama to “say something hilarious!”
The president replies, “We don’t have a domestic spying program!”
BREAKING NEWS PHOTOGRAPHY: Tyler Hicks of The New York Times.
He was cited for “skill and bravery” while photographing the dayslong, deadly Kenya mall attack: a woman sheltering children, a plainclothes officer pointing a gun on an escalator and a victim on a blood-soaked floor next to a gun-toting man in camouflage.
“He manages to make amazing, penetrating images that are also historical and aesthetically amazing, while under fire,” said Michele McNally, the assistant managing editor for photography at the Times.
FEATURE PHOTOGRAPHY: Josh Haner of The New York Times.
Haner documented a Boston bombing victim’s struggles and progress: painful treatments and rehabilitation; touching moments — sharing a joke with his girlfriend from his hospital bed and a reassuring embrace from his mother; a close-up of him touching his amputated leg.
Haner is “tireless. He’s committed. And he has a wonderful personality. If anyone could get someone to open up to them over a period of time, he can,” McNally said.
FICTION: “The Goldfinch” by Donna Tartt (Little, Brown)
“The Goldfinch” was more than worth the wait.
Fans of Tartt had waited a decade for her to complete her third novel and had wondered if she could recapture the energy of her sensational debut, “The Secret History,” published in 1992. “The Goldfinch,” a meaty, Dickensian story set in contemporary Manhattan, was published last fall to admiring reviews and strong sales that have hardly relented.
Tartt, 50, is a Mississippi native with a sharp stare and dark, parted hair who rarely makes public appearances when she doesn’t have a book to promote. She studied briefly at the University of Mississippi, where her talent was quickly appreciated by author-teacher Barry Hannah, then transferred to Bennington College in Vermont and befriended such fellow students and writers as Jonathan Lethem and Bret Easton Ellis.
DRAMA: Annie Baker’s “The Flick.”
It was long and the only popcorn on offer was on the stage.
A play set in a run-down movie theater, “The Flick” was divisive among critics and the public alike. It clocked in at three hours and 15 minutes — with an intermission — and angered a few theatergoers who walked out, prompting the artistic director of the theater company where it premiered to write a letter to subscribers.
“Perhaps we can all agree that whatever values we look for in the theater, we all stand on the common ground that it is a vital and important art form that we look to to illuminate the human experience with complexity and integrity,” wrote Tim Sanford of Playwrights Horizons.
A native of Amherst, Mass., Baker, who is in her early 30s, has made a name for herself for creating minutely detailed worlds filled with silences and minimal information. Her other plays include “Circle Mirror Transformation,” ”Body Awareness” and “The Aliens.”
HISTORY: “The Internal Enemy: Slavery and War in Virginia, 1772-1832″ by Alan Taylor (W.W. Norton)
Taylor is proof that even the best historians can be caught by surprise.
He recalled Monday how he came upon documents telling of escaped slaves who helped the British during the War of 1812 and were an important reason the British were able to capture Washington, D.C. “This is a story I had known nothing about and I was supposed to be a specialist,” said Taylor, 58, now a two-time Pulitzer winner.
Taylor will soon join the faculty of the University of Virginia, a sort of literary homecoming for the historian. “The Internal Enemy” tells of how the white Virginia plantation community simultaneously advocated for independence from the British and feared rebellion by the slaves.
A native of Portland, Maine, Taylor won the Pulitzer and Bancroft prizes for his 1996 book “William Cooper’s Town: Power and Persuasion on the Frontier of the Early American Republic,” which chronicles the settling of Cooperstown, N.Y. and two of the community’s most famous residents: Founder William Cooper, and his son, “The Last of the Mohicans” novelist James Fenimore Cooper.
BIOGRAPHY: Megan Marshall’s “Margaret Fuller: A New American Life” (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
The committee called the work, about a powerful social reformer who died at age 40 in a shipwreck, “a richly researched book” chronicling “the remarkable story of a 19th-century author, journalist, critic and pioneering advocate of women’s rights.”
A Pulitzer finalist for her 2005 biography, “The Peabody Sisters,” Marshall, who grew up in Pasadena, Calif., has written for The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The New Republic and others. She teaches nonfiction writing and archival research at Emerson College and lives in Belmont, Mass.
POETRY: Vijay Seshadri’s “3 Sections” (Graywolf Press)
Seshadri said in a phone interview that the book is “hard to characterize” because its three sections are very different. The most dramatic element, a long prose section, describes a winter he spent on the Bering Sea, while a long poem explores the nature of personhood — “a mysterious concept,” he admitted. The other section consists of lyric poems.
He said when his publisher called to tell him he won the Pulitzer, he actually thought “someone was pulling my leg.” Seshadri added that he considers himself “incredibly lucky. I get paid to be a writer.” As for the win, he added, “As they say, only in America.”
Seshadri, 60, was born in India and lives in Brooklyn, N.Y., teaches writing at Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, N.Y.
GENERAL NONFICTION: Dan Fagin, “Toms River: A Story of Science and Salvation” (Bantam Books)
In “Toms River: A Story of Science and Salvation,” Fagin, a former environmental journalist, investigates the seemingly simple question of what was in the water of a small New Jersey community. He unpacks a deep and complicated history of factory pollution, corporate industry and ill-conceived scientific pursuit that led to high rates of cancer in the children of Toms River.
The Pulitzer committee said the book “deftly combines investigative reporting and historical research to probe a New Jersey seashore town’s cluster of childhood cancers linked to water and air pollution.”
Fagin, who lives on Long Island in New York, is a science journalism professor at New York University. As a longtime environmental health reporter at Newsday, he was part of two reporting teams that were Pulitzer Prize finalists.
MUSIC: John Luther Adams’ “Become Ocean” (Taiga Press/Theodore Front Musical Literature)
John Luther Adams knew he’d been nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for his composition “Become Ocean,” but he had no expectations of winning. He was so busy with classes as part of a residency at Michigan Tech University that he even forgot the day they’d be handed out.
“I was actually taking a quick power nap between classes and got a phone call. It was a quite a wake-up call,” Adams said with a chuckle. “It was pretty great.”
Though based temporarily in Michigan, Adams’ thoughts are never far from Alaska. A onetime executive director of the Northern Alaska Environmental Center, the composer and author’s work has long been inspired by the natural world he’s experienced. The Pulitzer committee was attracted to the real-world feel of “Become Ocean,” which was informed by the waters off the coast of Alaska and the Pacific Northwest.
The committee said the 61-year-old’s composition is a “haunting orchestral work that suggests a relentless tidal surge, evoking thoughts of melting polar ice and rising sea levels.” The piece was commissioned by the Seattle Symphony, which debuted the work in June.
Adams gave up his political activism in the mid-1980s and rededicated himself to his art. He thinks one can be just as powerful and instructive as the other, and his goal is to allow listeners around the world to experience the beauty he sees all around his home in Fairbanks.
“As I get older I’m not interested in painting a picture or telling a story or telling a lesson in music,” Adams said. “What I’m trying to do is create music that has sense of place, to create a strange, beautiful, sometimes perhaps even frightening place in music, and for you to find your own way, to have your own experience, and maybe even to get lost in it.”