This post answers a prompt from my Digital Journalism course through UC San Diego Extension.
The Pulitzer Prize has no specific guidelines to determine the winners. There are no checkboxes or criteria that a finalist has to meet. In fact, each category is described by a single sentence which encompasses the entirety of the judging rubric. This gives more import to the entries themselves – not only do they have to demonstrate their merit above the competition, they must also stand alone as exemplars of the category for which they were submitted. One of these prize categories is awarded to “a distinguished example of feature writing giving prime consideration to quality of writing, originality and concision.” In 2012, this award went to The Bravest Woman in Seattle.
Does this story incorporate incredible writing techniques? Yes. Does it tell a compelling story? Yes. Did it deserve the Pulitzer? Well, that’s the matter at hand. Eli Sanders weaves together two narratives: a brutal attack that ended in great loss collides with the reliving of this attack in a court of law. Images of the attack are pulled into the courtroom, conjuring a heavy atmosphere that can be felt by the reader. But the true power of this story is it’s simple message: This happened to me. You must listen… This happened. Each horrific detail adds to a reality that Sanders does not let us deny. This happened. You must listen.
A good story shows: it puts words together to create a scene. A great story evokes: it pulls on emotions to involve the reader. A Pulitzer Prize-winning story is undeniable: it lays reality bare to say something profound. This is precisely what The Bravest Woman in Seattle does.
Twitter Teaser (another writing prompt):
What does #bravery mean? Eli Sanders explores a harrowing attack & its aftermath in his #Pulitzer winning essay The Bravest Women in Seattle