What’s in a Name

The name Pulitzer is familiar to most people in connection with the annual prizes awarded for excellence in Letters, Drama, and Music, however few may know the origin of this name and its awards.

Joseph Pulitzer, after whom the prizes are named, was born into a wealthy Jewish family in Hungary in 1847. Plagued by poor health and, in particular, failing eye sight, he was unable to fulfill his dream of joining the army as a young man, until he encountered a bounty recruiter for the U.S Union Army that allowed him to be enlisted as a substitute for someone already drafted. Thus, began his journey to America and Boston to be precise. In time Joseph was to flourish in the world of newspapers and publishing, becoming the owner of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and later the New York World.

The overriding feature of Pulitzer’s character was the desire to work for the exposure and end to public and private corruption, something he continued to strive for through the development of his publishing empires until his death in 1911.

The Prizes

Joseph Pulitzer had proposed the establishment of a school of journalism before his death and a year after he died, the Columbia School of Journalism was founded and the first prizes bearing his name were awarded in 1917. Following his ambitious vision of a fair press and excellence in journalism, the recipients were and are to this day chosen by a board of rotating members and academics who strive to reflect this initial vision. Subsequently, the other categories for the arts have been added, with the prize for poetry being awarded since 1922.

Pulitzer Poetry Winners

The Pulitzer Prize for poetry is among seven prizes that are given annually within the realms of Drama, Music and Writing. The poetry prize is awarded to an American recipient who is considered to have produced a worthy volume of original work and that has been published during the preceding year. Interestingly, several poets have even been the recipients of the prize on more than one occasion. Among them is Edwin Arlington with awards in 1922,1925,1928, and Robert Frost – 1924,1931,1937,1943.

In addition to the announcement of a winner, as of 1980, each year it has been the custom to publish the names of finalists, usually two, besides that of the winner. Throughout its history the prize has rarely deviated from this procedure although in 1946 no award was given and in 2008 two winners were announced with only one other finalist.

With the award comes a reasonable cash prize of some 15,000 U.S dollars, but undoubtedly the prestige and acknowledgment from one’s peers is the accolade that most recipients will enjoy most. Ultimately, the exposure that comes from such an award is a significant boost to any artist and especially in the field of poetry where it can be extremely hard to be recognized for one’s work. From the tireless dreams and aspirations of one man has emerged a positive way to celebrate and acknowledged all that is good and positive about the Arts.