Sunday, May 19, 2024

Pulitzer Prizes Expand Eligibility to Noncitizens

The board that administers the Pulitzer Prizes announced on Tuesday that it would expand eligibility for the awards to authors, playwrights and composers who are not U.S. citizens.

Most of the awards for books, drama and music had been open only to American citizens, but beginning with the 2025 prizes, the board will consider works by permanent and longtime residents of the United States.

Expanding the eligibility is a significant evolution for the Pulitzers, which were established in 1917 by the newspaper publisher Joseph Pulitzer, a Hungarian immigrant who emphasized that the prizes were intended to celebrate distinctly American works.

The journalism awards have long been open to people of all nationalities whose work is published by American media outlets. But with the exception of the history prize, the literary categories, as well as the music and drama awards, have been limited to American citizens.

The board began discussing the possibility of expanding the eligibility in December, after the jury for the memoir category raised concerns that the citizenship requirement was excluding a large part of American culture, said Marjorie Miller, the administrator for the prizes. When the jury members brought that issue before the board, she said, a consensus quickly formed that the criterion should be changed.

“This emphasizes the American nature of the work rather than the individual,” Miller said. “You can be American and write a book or play or a piece of music that is American without being a U.S. citizen.”

The board is not setting firm boundaries of long-term and permanent residency, leaving the determination up to authors and publishers.

“I think it’s defined by the identity of the writer: Do you consider the United States your permanent home, and is this a work that in some regard would be considered American?” Miller said.

The decision was celebrated by artists and writers who have lobbied for the prize to be expanded.

“We’re just beginning to recognize that migrant literature is American literature,” said Ingrid Rojas Contreras, a Pulitzer finalist this year for her memoir, “The Man Who Could Move Clouds.” “The role that these prizes have in curating the literature we will read in the future is immense.”

In August, a group of authors posted an open letter to the Pulitzer board and asked for the prize to be opened to immigrants and undocumented writers.

“Whether undocumented writers are writing about the border or not, their voices are quintessentially part of what it means to belong and struggle to belong in this and to this nation,” they wrote in the letter, which drew signatures from hundreds of writers, including Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah, Angie Cruz and Fatimah Asghar.

Javier Zamora, who signed the open letter, helped drive activism around the issue with an opinion essay he published in July in The Los Angeles Times, in which he lamented that his acclaimed memoir, “Solito,” was not eligible for a Pulitzer Prize because of the citizenship requirement.

In an interview, Zamora said he hoped the change would help expand definitions of the American literary canon to include more work by undocumented writers and immigrants.

“This tells them, ‘Your story also matters — that your story could be part of a canon,’” he said.

The Pulitzers are the latest literary awards to redefine or expand their citizenship requirements. The Academy of American Poets and the Poetry Foundation have both opened up their prizes to immigrants with temporary legal status. The National Book Award and the PEN/Faulkner Award also opened their prizes to noncitizens.

When the first music Pulitzers were given, in the 1940s, the United States had become a haven for European artists — such as Arnold Schoenberg, Kurt Weill and Erich Wolfgang Korngold — who had emigrated in the shadow of fascism and World War II. Despite their successes abroad, though, Pulitzers went largely to stalwarts of the American academy.

The citizenship change will expand the group of eligible composers to those who were born abroad and have settled in the United States; Thomas Adès, one of his generation’s most celebrated composers, was born in London but lives in Los Angeles. Some winners of the similarly prestigious, globally reaching Grawemeyer Award for Music Composition could also now be considered.

Joshua Barone contributed reporting.

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