Tag Archives: Pulitzer Prize

Black History Month 2014: Toni Morrison

7 Feb

Toni-MorrisonToday we honor and celebrate a decorated writer and outspoken advocate of the targeted and oppressed. Toni Morrison is one of my favorite writers. Her passion and commitment to social justice shine through in every word she writes and speaks.

Born Chloe Ardelia Wofford in Lorain, OH in 1931, she developed an early love of stories. Her father told traditional African folk stories, a style she has adapted into her own work. She also fell in love with the writing of Jane Austen. (How could I NOT love her for that?) She took the name Toni from her baptismal name, Anthony, and Morrison from her (now ex-)husband.

Morrison got her BA from Howard and MA from Cornell, becoming and educator and editor. While working at Random House, she was instrumental in re-introducing black voices into the publisher’s catalog. She began writing fiction as part of an informal group of writers at Howard University. Morrison published her first novel, The Bluest Eye (One of my all time favorite novels) in 1970, launching a new career just as she turned 40.

Her work documents the tapestry that informs the African-American experience and — on a very deep level — our shared humanity. She demands that we look at the systems of oppression that have shaped American history. When speaking at the ceremony that awarded her the Frederic G. Melcher Book Award for Beloved, (A MUST READ) she noted that “there is no suitable memorial or plaque or wreath or wall or park or skyscraper lobby” honoring the memory of the human beings forced into slavery and brought to the United States.”

Beloved, her most celebrated work, was published in 1987. It won the Pulitzer Prize and American Book Award and remains a much-read and much-loved novel. Her list of honors includes the Jefferson Lecture for the National Endowment for the Humanities, the National Book Foundation’s Medal of Distinguished Contributions, the National Humanities Medal, the Pearl Buck Award, the Robert F. Kennedy Book Award, and many more. Toni Morrison was the first black woman to win a Nobel prize when she was awarded the Literature medal in 1993.

A celebrated writer, a brave spirit, and a strong voice for social justice — what an amazing woman and career! The United States will remain in her debt.

Celebrating LGBTQ History Month: June 26, Jose Antonio Vargas

26 Jun

Today I would like to honor and pay tribute to Jose Antonio Vargas.  A Pulitzer Prize winning reporter, Vargas recently outed himself as an undocumented immigrant.  You probably recognize Vargas’ name; he was a former reporter for The Washington Post and shared a Pulitzer Prize for coverage of the Virginia Tech shootings.

TSM has addressed the issues of inequities before in how we treat undocumented youth. Vargas came to the United States as a young boy from the Philippines.  At age 16, Vargas realized, quite by accident, that the documentation he had been given by his grandfather (green card) was fake.  Not wanting to hurt or betray his grandfather:

I decided then that I could never give anyone reason to doubt I was an American. I convinced myself that if I worked enough, if I achieved enough, I would be rewarded with citizenship. I felt I could earn it…But I am still an undocumented immigrant. And that means living a different kind of reality. It means going about my day in fear of being found out. It means rarely trusting people, even those closest to me, with who I really am. It means keeping my family photos in a shoebox rather than displaying them on shelves in my home, so friends don’t ask about them. It means reluctantly, even painfully, doing things I know are wrong and unlawful. And it has meant relying on a sort of 21st-century underground railroad of supporters, people who took an interest in my future and took risks for me.

Vargas started working on what would be an amazing career at Mountain View High School, joining the choir and the speech and debate team while keeping the secret that his social security card was a fake and photocopied at the local Kinkos.  Being an undocumented immigrant was not the only secret Vargas was carrying:

Later that school year, my history class watched a documentary on Harvey Milk, the openly gay San Francisco city official who was assassinated. This was 1999, just six months after Matthew Shepard’s body was found tied to a fence in Wyoming. During the discussion, I raised my hand and said something like: “I’m sorry Harvey Milk got killed for being gay. . . . I’ve been meaning to say this. . . . I’m gay.”

Being openly gay just added to the enormity of being in the country without documentation.  He was unable to accept an internship with the Seattle Times and endured a struggle to work within the system and lawyers to make him a citizen all to find out, “My only solution, the lawyer said, was to go back to the Philippines and accept a 10-year ban before I could apply to return legally.”  Consequently, Vargas decided to keep under the radar and continue to pursue a career in journalism.

Finally, after acquiring the needed documentation, Vargas was able to secure a position with the Washington Post.  I celebrate Vargas today as a part of LGBTQ History month for his courage and perseverance.  He told NPR that refused to marry a woman so that he could stay in the country legally, “Living with one lie is enough.”  I will be eagerly awaiting to see what happens to Jose Antonio Vargas.  Click here to read the NYT Article.

Women’s History: April 13

13 Apr

Happy Birthday, Nella Larsen

Happy Birthday, Nella Larsen. Larsen is best known as one of the literary voices of the Harlem Renaissance. Her novel Quicksand and her second novel Passing both address the issues of race and gender. Both novels are remarkable in how they address racism through the lens of a young girl (based on Larsen’s life), and what life looked like for a young girl to pass as white or feel safe. Larsen was the first African American woman to win a Guggenheim Fellowship.  Click here to learn more about the life of Nella Larsen.

Happy Birthday, Eudora Welty. The Pulitzer prize winning Welty was known as the First Lady of Southern Literature. Having spent most of my life in the south, I have a great appreciation for Welty. A Worn Path and Petrified Man are two of my favorites of her short stories. Welty fits perfectly with the mission of this blog–fighting racism and all forms of bigotry.

Happy Birthday, Eudora Welty


Women’s History: February 22

22 Feb

Poet/Feminist

Happy Birthday, Edna St. Vincent Millay. Millay is best known for her poetry, specifically her poetry around issues of sexual and personal freedom. Millay was only the third woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. Millay’s sexuality seems to have been somewhat fluid, having had relationships with women, and marrying Eugen Jan Boissevain. Both took on other lovers during their 26 year marriage. Millay was a strong feminist and activist. One of my favorite quotes from Millay is:

Let us forget such words, and all they mean,
as Hatred, Bitterness and Rancor,
Greed, Intolerance, Bigotry.
Let us renew our faith and pledge to Man
his right to be Himself.

Happy Birthday, Isabella Beecher Hooker. Isabella was the half sister of Henry Ward Beecher and Harriet Beecher Stowe. Isabella became a social reformer and strong suffragist. In fact, she became a close friend of one of my heroes, Victoria Woodhull. For those of you that follow my blog regularly, you will remember my story on Victoria Woodhull and how she lost many a friend for her article exposing the affair of the Rev. Henry Ward Beecher, yet Isabella stood by our Victoria during this debacle.

 

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