Dominion of New York

Art & Entertainment

April 17, 2012

THREE African-Americans Win 2012 Pulitzer Prizes

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Written by: Kelly Virella
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esterday afternoon black Twitter erupted with applause for the winners of the 2012 Pulitzer Prize, especially for the history prize winner, the late Manning Marable. But Marable was not the only winner of African descent. Tracy K. Smith also took home a prize,  for her collection of poems, Life on Mars.

Smith lives in Brooklyn and is an assistant professor of creative writing at Princeton University. She heard that she had won the award after coming home from a run. “This news is particularly elating, because I think of the book as a tribute to my father, who passed away in 2008,” Smith told a reporter for Princeton’s news service.

“Life on Mars,” published in 2011, is Smith’s third published collection.

A fellow Princeton professor praised her. “Tracy K. Smith is an extraordinary poet and a phenomenal teacher, attuned to the nearest heart and the furthest star. ‘Life on Mars’ is that rarest of endeavors: a third book that surpasses a second book, which surpassed a first book that seemed unsurpassable,” said Susan Wheeler, director of Princeton’s Program in Creative Writing at the Lewis Center and an associate professor of creative writing.

Manning Marable won the Pulitzer prize in history for his celebrated biography Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention. Marable was a professor at Columbia University. He worked on the definitive biography for over ten years and died April 1, 2011, just three days before its publication.

The day he died scholar and author Cornel West told The New York Times: Marable was “our grand radical democratic intellectual,” adding, “He kept alive the democratic socialist tradition in the black freedom movement, and I had great love and respect for him.”

Marable and Smith’s Pulitzer wins come after two African-American writers took home top prizes in the National Book Award in November. Jessmyn Ward won for her novel Salvage the Bones and Nikki Finney won for her collection of poetry, Head Off & Split.

UPDATE: Twitter user @realdawnsummers just notified us of another African-American 2012 Pulitzer Winner. In journalism, Wesley Morris, of the Boston Globe won a Pulitzer prize for his film criticism. The judges said his essays and reviews embodied “smart, inventive film criticism, distinguished by pinpoint prose, and an easy traverse between the art house and big-screen box office.’’

About the Author

Kelly Virella
Kelly Virella lives in an East Harlem walk-up with her husband, her bicycle and her books. She's worked as a journalist for 11 years and started this website during the summer of 2011. She fell in love with New York City during her first visit here as a 16-year-old and finally made good on her promise to move here in April 2010.


Official portrait from his tenure as US Secretary of Housing and Urban Development.