NEW YORK — The 2012 Pulitzer Prize winners and finalists, with comments from judges:
Music: “Silent Night: Opera in Two Acts” by Kevin Puts, commissioned and premiered by the Minnesota Opera in Minneapolis on Nov. 12, 2011, a stirring opera that recounts the true story of a spontaneous cease-fire among Scottish, French and Germans during World War I, displaying versatility of style and cutting straight to the heart. Libretto by Mark Campbell (Aperto Press).
Finalists: Tod Machover for “Death and the Powers,” premiered by the Boston Modern Opera Project in Massachusetts on March 18, 2011, an inventive opera that uses electronic music as it explores a dying billionaire’s attempt to transcend mortality through technology, raising significant questions about human existence. Libretto by Robert Pinsky (Boosey & Hawkes); and Andrew Norman for “The Companion Guide to Rome,” premiered on Nov. 13, 2011, in Salt Lake City, Utah, an impressive musical portrait of nine historic churches, written for a string trio but sometimes giving the illusion of being played by a much larger group, changing mood and mode on a dime (Schott Music).
Fiction: No award. Finalists: “Train Dreams,” by Denis Johnson (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), a novella about a day laborer in the old American West, bearing witness to terrors and glories with compassionate, heartbreaking calm; “Swamplandia!” by Karen Russell (Alfred A. Knopf), an adventure tale about an eccentric family adrift in its failing alligator-wrestling theme park; and “The Pale King,” by the late David Foster Wallace (Little, Brown and Co.), a posthumously completed novel that explores boredom and bureaucracy in the American workplace.
Drama: “Water by the Spoonful” by Quiara Alegría Hudes, an imaginative play about the search for meaning by a returning Iraq war veteran working in a sandwich shop in his hometown of Philadelphia. Finalists: “Other Desert Cities,” by Jon Robin Baitz, a drama about an affluent California couple whose daughter has written a memoir that threatens to reveal family secrets about her dead brother, and “Sons of the Prophet,” by Stephen Karam, about a Lebanese-American family that blends comedy and tragedy in its examination of how suffering capriciously rains down on some and not others.
History: “Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention” by the late Manning Marable (Viking), an exploration of the legendary life and provocative views of one of the most significant African-Americans in U.S. history. (moved by the Board from the Biography category.) Finalists: “Empires, Nations & Families: A History of the North American West, 1800-1860,” by Anne F. Hyde (University of Nebraska Press), which traced how people created families and conducted business in a vast, fur-trading region newly part of an expanding United States; “The Eleventh Day: The Full Story of 9/11 and Osama Bin Laden,” by Anthony Summers and Robbyn Swan (Ballantine Books), a look at a catastrophic act of terrorism and the nagging questions that have swirled around it; and “Railroaded: The Transcontinentals and the Making of Modern America,” by Richard White (W.W. Norton & Company), which shows how reckless but influential railroad corporations in the late 19th century often profited by failure as well as success.
Biography: “George F. Kennan: An American Life” by John Lewis Gaddis (The Penguin Press), a portrait of a globe-trotting diplomat whose complicated life was interwoven with the Cold War and America’s emergence as the world’s dominant power. Finalists: “Love and Capital: Karl and Jenny Marx and the Birth of a Revolution,” by Mary Gabriel (Little, Brown and Co.), on the saga of Marx, his family and the ideas and historical events they helped to shape, and “Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention,” by the late Manning Marable (Viking), an exploration of the legendary life and provocative views of one of the most significant African-Americans in U.S. history (moved by the Board to the History category).
Poetry: “Life on Mars” by Tracy K. Smith (Graywolf Press), a collection of bold, skillful poems, taking readers into the universe and moving them to an authentic mix of joy and pain. Finalists: “Core Samples from the World,” by Forrest Gander (New Directions), which explores cross-cultural tensions in the world and digs deeply to identify what is essential in human experience, and “How Long,” by Ron Padgett (Coffee House Press), a collection of poems that juggle delight, wit and endless fascination with language.
General nonfiction: “The Swerve: How the World Became Modern” by Stephen Greenblatt (W.W. Norton and Co.), a provocative book arguing that an obscure work of philosophy, discovered nearly 600 years ago, changed the course of history by anticipating the science and sensibilities of today. Finalists: “One Hundred Names For Love: A Stroke, a Marriage, and the Language of Healing,” by Diane Ackerman (W.W. Norton and Co.), an account of caring for a stricken husband, sharing fears and insights as she explores neurology and ponders the gift of words, and “Unnatural Selection: Choosing Boys over Girls, and the Consequences of a World Full of Men,” by Mara Hvistendahl (Public Affairs), a book probing the causes and effects of a global imbalance in the gender ratio.
Public service: The Philadelphia Inquirer for its exploration of pervasive violence in the city’s schools, using powerful print narratives and videos to illuminate crimes committed by children against children and to stir reforms to improve safety for teachers and students. Finalists: The Miami Herald for its exposure of deadly abuses and lax state oversight in Florida’s assisted-living facilities for the elderly and mentally ill that resulted in the closure of dangerous homes, punishment of violators and creation of tougher laws and regulations, and The New York Times for the work of Danny Hakim and Russ Buettner that revealed rapes, beatings and more than 1,200 unexplained deaths over the past decade of developmentally disabled people in New York State group homes, leading to removal of two top officials, movement to fire 130 employees and passage of remedial laws.
Breaking news reporting: The Tuscaloosa (Ala.) News staff for its enterprising coverage of a deadly tornado, using social media as well as traditional reporting to provide real-time updates, help locate missing people and produce in-depth print accounts even after power disruption forced the paper to publish at another plant 50 miles away. Finalists: The Arizona Republic Staff, Phoenix, for its comprehensive coverage of the mass shooting that killed six and wounded 13, including Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, an exemplary use of journalistic tools, from Twitter to video to written reports and features, to tell an unfolding story, and the staff of the Wisconsin State Journal, Madison, for its energetic coverage of 27 days of around-the-clock protests in the state Capitol over collective bargaining rights, using an array of journalistic tools to capture one breaking development after another.
Investigative reporting: Matt Apuzzo, Adam Goldman, Eileen Sullivan and Chris Hawley of The Associated Press for their spotlighting of the New York Police Department’s clandestine spying program that monitored daily life in Muslim communities, resulting in congressional calls for a federal investigation, and a debate over the proper role of domestic intelligence gathering; and Michael J. Berens and Ken Armstrong of The Seattle Times for their investigation of how a little known governmental body in Washington state moved vulnerable patients from safer pain-control medication to methadone, a cheaper but more dangerous drug, coverage that prompted statewide health warnings. Finalists: Gary Marx and David Jackson of the Chicago Tribune for their exposure of a neglectful state justice system that allowed dozens of brutal criminals to evade punishment by fleeing the country, sparking moves for corrective change.
Explanatory reporting: David Kocieniewski of The New York Times for his lucid series that penetrated a legal thicket to explain how the nation’s wealthiest citizens and corporations often exploited loopholes and avoided taxes. Finalists: Tom Frank of USA Today for his sharply focused exploration of inflated pensions for state and local employees, enhancing stories with graphic material to show how state legislators pump up retirement benefits in creative but unconscionable ways, and The Wall Street Journal staff for its tenacious exploration of how personal information is harvested from the cellphones and computers of unsuspecting Americans by corporations and public officials in a largely unmonitored realm of modern life.
Local reporting: Sara Ganim and members of The Patriot-News staff, Harrisburg, Pa., for courageously revealing and adeptly covering the explosive Penn State sex scandal involving former football coach Jerry Sandusky. Finalists: staff of California Watch, founded by the Center for Investigative Reporting, Berkeley, for its rigorous probe of deficient earthquake protection in the construction of public schools across the state, telling the story with words, graphics, videos and other tools, and A.M. Sheehan and Matthew Hongoltz-Hetling of the Advertiser Democrat, Norway, Maine, a weekly, for their tenacious exposure of disgraceful conditions in federally-supported housing in a small rural community that, within hours, triggered a state investigation.
National reporting: David Wood of The Huffington Post for his riveting exploration of the physical and emotional challenges facing American soldiers severely wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan during a decade of war. Finalists: Jeff Donn of The Associated Press for his diligent exposure of federal regulators easing or neglecting to enforce safety standards as aging nuclear power plants exceed their original life spans, with interactive data and videos used to drive home the findings, and Jessica Silver-Greenberg of The Wall Street Journal for her compelling examination of aggressive debt collectors whose often questionable tactics, profitable but largely unseen by the public, vexed borrowers hard hit by the nation’s financial crisis.
International reporting: Jeffrey Gettleman of The New York Times for his vivid reports, often at personal peril, on famine and conflict in East Africa, a neglected but increasingly strategic part of the world. Finalists: The New York Times staff for its powerful exploration of serious mistakes concealed by authorities in Japan after a tsunami and earthquake devastated the nation, and caused a nuclear disaster, and the Thomson Reuters staff for its well-crafted reports on the momentous revolution in Libya that went beyond battlefield dispatches to tell the wider story of discontent, conflict and the role of outside powers.
Feature writing: Eli Sanders of The Stranger, a Seattle weekly, for his haunting story of a woman who survived a brutal attack that took the life of her partner, using the woman’s brave courtroom testimony and the details of the crime to construct a moving narrative. Finalists: John Branch of The New York Times for his deeply reported story of Derek Boogaard, a professional hockey player valued for his brawling, whose tragic story shed light on a popular sport’s disturbing embrace of potentially brain-damaging violence, and Corinne Reilly of The Virginian-Pilot, Norfolk, for her inspiring stories that bring the reader side-by-side with the medical professionals seeking to save the lives of gravely injured American soldiers at a combat hospital in Afghanistan.
Commentary: Mary Schmich of the Chicago Tribune for her wide range of down-to-earth columns that reflect the character and capture the culture of her famed city. Finalists: Nicholas Kristof of The New York Times for his valorous columns that transport readers into dangerous international scenes, from Egypt to Kenya to Cambodia, often focusing on the disenfranchised and always providing insight, and Steve Lopez of the Los Angeles Times for his engaging commentary on death and dying, marked by pieces on his own father’s rapid physical and mental decline, that stir readers to address end-of-life questions.
Criticism: Wesley Morris of The Boston Globe for his smart, inventive film criticism, distinguished by pinpoint prose and an easy traverse between the art house and the big-screen box office. Finalists: Philip Kennicott of The Washington Post for his ambitious and insightful cultural criticism, taking on topical events from the uprisings in Egypt to the dedication of the ground zero memorial, causing readers to reflect on the world around them, and Tobi Tobias for work appearing on ArtsJournal.com that reveals passion as well as deep historical knowledge of dance, her well-expressed arguments coming from the heart as well as the head.
Editorial writing: No award. Finalists: Paula Dwyer and Mark Whitehouse of Bloomberg News for their analysis of and prescription for the European debt crisis, dealing with important technical questions in ways that the average readers could grasp; Tim Nickens, Joni James, John Hill and Robyn Blumner of the Tampa Bay (Fla.) Times for editorials that examined the policies of a new, inexperienced governor and their impact on the state, using techniques that stretched the typical editorial format and caused the governor to mend some of his ways, and Aki Soga and Michael Townsend, of the Burlington (Vt.) Free Press, for their campaign that resulted in the state’s first reform of open government laws in 35 years, reducing legal obstacles that helped shroud the work of government officials.
Editorial cartooning: Matt Wuerker of Politico for his consistently fresh, funny cartoons, especially memorable for lampooning the partisan conflict that engulfed Washington. Finalists: Matt Bors, syndicated by Universal Uclick, for his pungent work outside the traditional style of American cartooning, and Jack Ohman, of The Oregonian, Portland, for his clever daily cartoons and a distinctive Sunday panel on local issues in which his reporting was as important as his artistic execution.
Breaking news photography: Massoud Hossaini of Agence France-Presse for his heartbreaking image of a girl crying in fear after a suicide bomber’s attack at a crowded shrine in Kabul. Finalists: Carolyn Cole and Brian van der Brug of the Los Angeles Times for their illumination of epic disasters in Japan, documenting the brutality of nature as well as the durability of the human spirit, and John Moore, Peter Macdiarmid and the late Chris Hondros of Getty Images for their brave coverage of revolutionary protests known as the Arab Spring, capturing the chaos and exuberance as ordinary people glimpsed new possibilities.
Feature photography: Craig F. Walker of The Denver Post for his compassionate chronicle of an honorably discharged veteran, home from Iraq and struggling with a severe case of post-traumatic stress, images that enable viewers to better grasp a national issue. Finalists: David Guttenfelder, Ng Han Guan and Rafael Wober of The Associated Press for their extraordinary portrayal of daily life inside the reclusive nation of North Korea, including scenes after the death of Kim Jong Il, and Francine Orr of the Los Angeles Times for her poignant portrait of the suffering by desperate families and misunderstood children who live with autism.