Kendrick Lamar Wins A Pulitzer Prize for ‘Damn’
In one of the greatest surprises in the history of the storied awards, rapper Kendrick Lamar won for his fourth LP, DAMN. Fans were disappointed when the work had been overlooked at the 2018 Grammys, with Album of the Year going to Bruno Mars.
Suddenly, that doesn’t feel like much of a thing anymore.
It was the first time the Pulitzer didn’t go to a jazz or classical artist. “The time was right,” Dana Canedy, the first woman, the first person of color, and the youngest person ever to administer the prizes. “It shines a light on hip-hop in a completely different way. This is a big moment for hip-hop music and a big moment for the Pulitzers.”
It was also a big moment for Canedy; here is her face the moment before she announced the award.
Here is her son immediately afterward.
Nearly half of the prizes went to local outlets who were following issues that could easily have been ignored if it weren’t for the dogged journalists who stayed true to their beats and their communities. (Praise up to the Cincinnati Enquirer and their reporting on heroin addiction.)
But the Pulitzers also acknowledged the big movements that shaped 2017.
It’s worth noting that Harvey Weinstein, who was notoriously focused on winning awards, was the subject of the reporting that earned the Times’ Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey and The New Yorker’s Ronan Farrow the prize for Public Service. Their stories detailed allegations of his sexual harassment, brutality, coercion, and paid settlements, and helped fuel the #MeToo movement.
The staff of The Washington Post also won for their reporting on the 2017 Alabama Senate race and the disturbing allegations that candidate Roy Moore had a history of sexually harassing teen girls. It changed the course of the election.
The New York Times and The Washington Post took the national reporting award for their coverage of the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential race and possible connections between President Donald Trump’s campaign and key Russian officials.
The spotlight was on hate, as well.
Prolific profile writer Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah won for her unflinching portrait of convicted mass shooter Dylann Roof, and the village that fed his irrational anger. It was the first win for GQ and, I believe, the first win for a freelance writer.
“You’ve always had poor white people in America, right?” Ghansah told NPR in an interview about the story. “What you haven’t always had, though, I think is the discussion of where these people come from and what they do with their anger,” she says. Roof never finished school, never learned a trade, and surrounded himself with like-minds who are literally arming themselves for a race war. “And so if you’re really talking about who wants something from America without putting anything in, it’s them.”
Bookmark this list of Gansah’s work compiled by Longreads, and save it for when you can savor it. There’s a pattern there, an ability to wrest a new meaning from even familiar characters, and an ability to blend her life’s blood into the writing without taking the spotlight away from her subject. (Yes, there is an essay about Beyonce that you must not miss.)
This year, the Pulitzers provided a much needed emotional boost to weary newsrooms and their readers: Journalism isn’t dead, the truth matters and standing up to bullies is worth the fight.
Ellen McGirt writes Fortune’s raceAhead, a daily newsletter about race and culture.