Black Scholars Take the Prize at this Year’s Pulitzers
2009 Pulitzer Prize winners Lynn Nottage (left) and Annette Gordon-Reed.
When I learned that law professor Annette Gordon-Reed, National Book Award winner for The Hemingses of Monticello, had been awarded a Pulitzer Prize for the same book, I cheered. I have never met Prof. Gordon-Reed (though I hope to, someday), and I am not terribly well versed in her chosen field. But as a fellow academic, I was absolutely thrilled that she was recognized by two major national awards committees for her research and writing on a subject/idea/question about which she is clearly passionate. For us professorial types, this is really the substance of our work. We research, write, and teach about whatever particular intellectual or artistic topic(s) or question(s) just really make us feel jazzed; and it is absolutely wonderful to see a Black woman academic achieve such prominent recognition for her work. Annette Gordon-Reed’s passionate inquiry into and exploration of the sexual, racial, and social complexities of the Jefferson-Hemings relationship is scholarly work at its finest. Professor Gordon-Reed is the first Black American to win the Pulitzer Prize in History.
But Annette Gordon-Reed is not the only Black academic to be recognized by the Pulitzer committee. Lynn Nottage, a visiting professor at the Yale School of Drama, won the Pulitzer Prize in Drama for Ruined, her play about brutality and survival against the backdrop of Congo’s civil war. New York Daily News reporter Jim Dziemianowicz describes some of the themes and influences that shape this unique theatrical work:
Inspired by Bertolt Brecht’s Mother Courage and Her Children, Nottage’s drama is set in a Congolese brothel. It tells the story of the watering hole’s wily and charismatic proprietor, Mama Nadi, and several young women who work for her who have been brutalized in the conflict.
Despite the grim subject matter, Nottage’s play is filled with humor, music and hope.