Culture August 7, 2016
Do you remember the last time one of your female friends, colleagues or someone else said something so profound, you did a double take?
For centuries, language has always been deemed a powerful instrument that has helped shape culture, beliefs and tradition. Words are the tools that frame how you interpret the world.
In the 19th century, Joseph Pulitzer exhibited the power of language. According to the Pulitzer website, “Joseph Pulitzer stood out as the very embodiment of American journalism.” Not only was he skillful, but he was also passionate about criticizing dishonest government. The Pulitzer website describes him as a “fierce, hawk-like competitor who did not shrink from sensationalism in circulation struggles and a visionary who richly endowed his profession.”
When Pulitzer died in 1911, his will established the Pulitzer Prizes. Today, according to New World Encyclopedia, “A Pulitzer Prize is an award regarded as the highest honor for outstanding achievement in print journalism, literature and musical composition.” Pulitzer prizes are administered by Columbia University each year in 21 different categories, and here are some of the women who have won in the last few years.
The Pulitzer website describes “Stag’s Leap” as a “book of unflinching poems on the author’s divorce that examine love, sorrow and the limits of self-knowledge.” According to Poetry Foundation, Olds is “one of contemporary poetry’s leading voices.”
She is known for writing personal and “emotionally scathing” poetry that focuses on family life and global political events. Poetry Foundation also states that her work is often centered on “intimate details concerning her children, her fraught relationship with her parents and, most controversially, her sex life.”
Aside from “Stag’s Leap,” Olds is also well known for other works such as “The Dead and the Living” (1984), which has sold over 50,000 copies and is often viewed in the tradition of Walt Whitman as a celebration of the body, especially because it “resonates with women readers.”
The Pulitzer website describes Fuller’s biography as a “richly researched book that tells the remarkable story of a 19th-century author, journalist, critic and pioneering advocate for women’s rights who died in a shipwreck.” Marshall’s biography brilliantly captures the story of Fuller’s activist journey.
The New York Times writes that Fuller grew up near Cambridge, Massachusetts, where her father sought to impart his wisdom on her. She started learning Latin at six years old and she had completed reading Virgil’s “The Aeneid” by the time she was eight. According to the article, Fuller should have been part of the Harvard class of 1829, but Harvard did not accept women at the time. Thus, Fuller realized that “both intellectually and emotionally, she must learn to “be [her] own priest, pupil, parent, child, husband and wife.’”
Marshall is also well known for her other works about women, including “Peabody Sisters: Three Women Who Ignited American Romanticism” (2005), which needs to be on your list of good books to read.
The Pulitzer website describes “The Goldfinch” as a “beautifully written coming-of-age novel with exquisitely drawn characters that follows a grieving boy’s entanglement with a small famous painting that has eluded destruction.” This good book to read “stimulates the mind and touches the heart.”
According to The New York Times, Tartt has written in notebooks throughout her life, and “some of the earliest scenes in ‘The Goldfinch’ were taken from notes dated 1933.” In Tartt’s interview with The New York Times, she says, “I was writing for a while not knowing what I was writing. That’s the way it’s been with all my books. Things will come to you and you’re not going to know exactly how they fit in.” According to her, she was writing and drawing books in this manner since she was five years old. As a child, she would cut out photos from National Geographic and write stories about her collection of images.
The Pulitzer website describes Baker’s work as a “thoughtful drama with well-crafted characters that focuses on three employees of a Massachusetts art-house movie theater, rendering lives rarely seen on stage.” According to The New Yorker, Baker is an “empathetic genius” who carefully listens to people and creates “human speech with such amusement and care.”
With this talent and style, she creates characters who feel “startlingly familiar” to her audiences. The New Yorker writes that Baker’s plays are “lessons in empathy.” They tell you haunting stories about different representations of life. Baker is also well known for other full-length plays, including “Circle Mirror Transformation,” “The Aliens” and “Body Awareness.”
The Pulitzer website describes this historical narrative as an “engrossing, original narrative showing the Mandans, a Native American tribe in the Dakotas, as a people with a history.”
According to Center of the American West, Fenn is an American West historian who is interested in Native American cultures, environmental history and epidemic diseases. As a writer, Professor and Chair in the University of Colorado’s Department of History, she aims to “develop a continent-wide analysis that incorporates Native Americans as well as African, European and Russian colonizers into a narrative that reflects the demographic and geographic realities of the early contact era.”
She is also well known for other works such as “Pox Americana: The Great Smallpox Epidemic of 1775-82 (2001),” which talks about the “devastating effects of a terrible smallpox epidemic.
The Pulitzer website describes Kolbert’s nonfiction story as an “exploration of nature that forces readers to consider the threat posed by human behavior to a world of astonishing diversity.”
According to The New Yorker, before joining that magazine as a staff writer in 1999, Kolbert worked at The New York Times, where she wrote a “Metro Matters” column. The column revealed various aspects of city life, including Detroit’s neglected inner-ring suburbs and (former NYC) Mayor Rudolph Giuliani dressed in drag.
Kolbert has researched climate change throughout her life and her 2006, three-part series on global warming titled, “The Climate of Man” won the National Magazine Award for Public Interest. According to Middleburg University, Kolbert even traveled to Alaska and Greenland to interview the residents who were experiencing the negative effects of climate change. In Kolbert’s last installment of her New Yorker series, she wrote, “It may be possible to imagine that a technologically advanced society could choose, in essence, to destroy itself, but that is what we are now in the process of doing.”
The Pulitzer website describes Wolfe’s musical piece as a “powerful oratorio for chorus and sextet evoking Pennsylvania coal-mining life around the turn of the 20th Century.” According to Wolfe’s interview by NPR Music, “Anthracite Fields” is inspired by her fascination with labor history. She tells NPR Music, “I’m taking from oral histories and political speeches and texts of ballads…There’s definitely a little history and an interesting way of looking at ourselves. It’s not a literal narrative. It really is getting at the story from many different angles.”
Wolfe says that “Anthracite Fields” is written for a choir and has five movements. With this, she created a “sound world that sounds very deep and low, resonant.” The text in the first movement, “Foundation,” is simply a collection of miner’s names from the index of injuries in the Pennsylvania coal mines. The last movement, “Appliances,” shifts to contemporary times to “find a way to tie it to who we are today.” In the interview, Wolfe says, “Everything that you do – bake a cake, drill a hole, that uses energy because we actually still use coal. So we are a part of the story.”
These are just a few of the women who have impacted the world in powerfully artistic ways. With their stories, screenplays and music, these women represent diverse aspects of the world and everyday life. They give voices to those unheard, they speak out against injustice and terror and they connect to the hearts and minds of readers everywhere.
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