The Pulitzer Prize Board has awarded late Earth Goddess Aretha Franklin with a special award and citation, honoring “her indelible contribution to American music and culture for more than five decades.” Franklin shares the honor with around 40 other men, like John Coltrane, and institutions, like the Kansas City Star, but is the the first woman on the list—not a great look for the Pulitzer Prize Board!
Franklin, who died in 2018, was the first woman admitted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. More than 70 of her songs climbed the Billboard Top 100.
Of course, the legacy of Franklin and countless other black women artists, like Nina Simone and Ella Fitzgerald, are firmly cemented in history and culture, whether historically white institutions like the Pulitzer Board choose to acknowledge them or not. But as Poynter’s Roy Peter Clark asked, hopefully this is a sign of shifting priorities to acknowledge more work by black women:
“My hope is that this prize to Aretha will accelerate a pattern of recognition by the Pulitzer Prizes. Going back a century, there were countless African Americans and women who had little or no chance to win an award in any category because of their race or gender. The great poet Langston Hughes comes to mind. What if the Pulitzer folks began a concerted effort to repair such neglect and inequity by looking back every year and honoring those who — against many odds — contributed so much to American culture?”
Congrats to the Pulitzer Prize Board for getting this one right.