“Our Republic and its press will rise or fall together. An able, disinterested, public-spirited press, with trained intelligence to know the right and courage to do it, can preserve that public virtue without which popular government is a sham and a mockery. A cynical, mercenary, demagogic press will produce in time a people as base as itself. The power to mold the future of the Republic will be in the hands of the journalists of future generations.”
These were the words of Joseph Pulitzer (1847-1911) written in 1904. If he could see how low the media of today has fallen, perhaps he would be disgusted and saddened. Far from being disinterested or public spirited, the press of print and electronic news are now taken over by multinational corporations. They are masters of spin and propaganda which serves their stockholders and the status quo of old money. The whistle blowers against corruption that Pulitzer so admired are persecuted and censored as a false vision of reality is promoted by the controlling elites.
Perhaps he did foresee these developments and that was a good reason to establish his prize to recognize and honor those who did rise above the pack. Pulitzer was born in Hungary and became an immigrant burning with ambition to make his mark in the world. He came to the USA to enlist in the Calvary of the Union Army. Later he worked at odd jobs while educating himself at the public libraries of Saint Louis, studying the law and constantly improving his English. It was at the Mercantile Library that he met two editors of the local German language newspaper who recognized the potential of the young intellectual and offered him a job.
In the years that followed Joseph built a reputation as being tireless and shrewd which culminated in 1878 when he became the owner of the Saint Louis Post Dispatch. He made a home of his editorial desk and soon won the public over with his crusades against government corruption. In 1883 he bought the New York World newspaper which he built into a huge success. One of his publicity stunts was to raise money for the construction of the pedestal for the Statue of Liberty which finally made it to New York after being stranded in France for some time.
The Joseph Pulitzer biography is a long rich story . His circulation battles with William Randolph Hearst led him into a zone of “Yellow Journalism” which he later came to regret. His desire to uphold and maintain journalism on a higher level caused him to establish the Pulitzer Prize that is today regarded with esteem.
The prize is given not only for journalism , but also for a diverse menu such as fiction, history and even music.
This is a list of my favorite books and authors that have been honored with the Pulitzer Prize in no particular order . I just happen to read a lot and was often unaware that the book had been a winner. Oftentimes a movie would be made that would send me to the library to read the source material.
As a baby boomer, it’s no surprise to find twin entries for Tennessee Williams books, “A Streetcar Named Desire” and ” Cat on a Hot Tin Roof“. Both movies can be enjoyed by themselves, but the actual novels were examples of how great writing can be. The characters and language were a revelation that reflected the culture of America after the big war. That particular horror story was also conveyed by the posthumous publication of “The Diary of Anne Frank” about the young Jewish girl trying to survive the Holocaust of World War Two. I was about the same age as her when I read it and her message of hope and her struggle to live were very moving.
Of course, there were other movies made from Pulitzer Prize books that were informative of American history as well as the national character. “Gone with the Wind” by Margaret Mitchell won the prize in 1936 for her sweeping epic of the Civil War. Read the book! Also, there was John Steinbeck’s ” The Grapes of Wrath” (1940) about the Great Depression and the migrations of America to escape the Dust Bowl. Steinbeck also won a Noble Peace prize later which was due in large part to this novel.
Proving that the book didn’t have to be weighty to carry a big story, we have Ernest Hemingway’s “The Old Man and the Sea“. Basically it’s about catching a giant fish, but told in a way with such character and grit that it transports the reader into the struggles of the old man. The book was the distillation of experience and talent into a tale that cemented the lofty Hemingway reputation.
While we are on the subject of grit, it’s necessary to mention the 1985 winner ” Lonesome Dove” by Larry McMurtry. This tale of aging Texas Rangers turned cattlemen driving their herd from Texas to Montana is the ultimate Western novel. It’s got everything from Indians to the stoic friendships of rough and ready cowboys. This book spawned sequels, mini series and programs on television too numerous to count easily.
To avoid thinking that the entries named are mired in the past, don’t forget the winner of the 1978 prize,” The Dragons of Eden” by Carl Sagan. He popularized science in terms accessible to a layman while delving into anthropology, history and computer programming in an exploration of the evolution of human intelligence. Although the book was never fully exploited as a movie, Sagan would often refer to this source in his prize winning television series, “Nova”.
Many movies have been made to visualize the Pulitzer Prize winners, but it’s hard to top “Tales of the South Pacific” (1948) by James Michener. This semi autobiographical collection about his adventures during World War Two became a huge hit on the bookshelves as well as the inspiration to the Rogers and Hammerstein musical filmed in Kauai, Hawaii. Michener’s book was the first in a long career of hefty novels..
Unlike the vast output of Michener, “To Kill A Mockingbird” (1961) is the only offering from novelist Harper Lee. The story of a rape trial with the defending lawyer, Atticus Finch, is a tale of race relations in the deep south of 1936 which turned over many stones. The tale of the destruction of innocence, the continuation of bigotry and the staunch ethical resolve of the protagonist, Finch, has been instructive and an inspiration to many.
Rounding out my top ten is the unforgettable biography, “Profiles in Courage“(1955) by John F. Kennedy.
It’s the story of eight Senators involved in adventures that can be described as heroic. He includes his own story as a shipwrecked PT boat commander in the second world war. Kennedy wrote the book with the help of his speechwriter, Theodore Sorensen, while he was laid up recovering from back surgery. It’s not too much of a stretch to say his Pulitzer Prize helped him to become elected as President.
So there you have a shopping list to take along on your next trip to the library. Read the book, then see the movie or the other way around. Either way, you are in for some entertainment of the highest quality, compliments of Joseph Pulitzer.
Here are links to the Top 10 of my series of articles regarding:
Spring Break Explosion !
Top 10 Books about Artists
Top Ten Sporty Activities of Kauai,Hawaii
The National Statuary Hall
Road Trips In the USA
Pets and Parenting
Health, Dieting, and Exercise
Thanks for reading and please feel free to leave comments.