Yesterday afternoon, Columbia University announced this year's Pulitzer Prize winners. (You can find the full list here.) Several former-and-hopefully-future TOTN guests picked up awards: Kathleen Parker, a columnist for The Washington Post, and Anthony Shadid, her former colleague, now a foreign correspondent for The New York Times, based in Baghdad.
The prize for best drama went to Next to Normal, by Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey, "a powerful rock musical that grapples with mental illness in a suburban family and expands the scope of subject matter for musicals." A curious sentence, enclosed in parentheses, follows that citation: "Moved into contention by the Board within the Drama category."
What does that mean? According to Charles McNulty, drama critic for the Los Angeles Times and chair of the drama jury, the Pulitzer Board, which makes the final decision about who wins what, ignored the recommendations of McNulty's jury. (You can read his scathing piece here.) He and his colleagues didn't think Next to Normal should be a finalist for the award, never mind the winner:
"The mandarins at Columbia University's journalism school, where the prizes are administrated, ignored the advice of its drama jury in favor of its own sentiments," he wrote.
It's a familiar story, but as chair of this year's jury — which also included Duke University drama professor John Clum, playwright Nilo Cruz, former chief theater critic of Variety David Rooney and Chicago Sun-Times theater and dance critic Hedy Weiss — I can't help being ticked off. Two points, in particular, rankle: the blinkered New York mentality and the failure to appreciate new directions in playwriting. The board had an opportunity to correct these long-standing shortcomings, and it blew it.
And this sort of thing isn't without precedent, McNulty continues:
The last time the Pulitzer bigwigs shook their collective head at the recommendations of the drama jury was in 2007, when David Lindsay-Abaire's "Rabbit Hole" won over its less heralded rivals. In 2006, the board decided not to bestow any award on a play. This nuclear option has occurred with more frequency for drama than it has for fiction, poetry and music. In fact, the number of drama snubs (15) equals the total of snubs for novel/fiction (10), poetry (1) and music (4), if you start counting from when the categories were inaugurated.