Your guide to the Pulitzer Prizes: Fun facts and Pulitzer-winning shows to see right now
The coveted prize has been given to one play or musical nearly every year since 1917.
The Pulitzer Prize. It just sounds fancy and prestigious. And it is: The Pulitzer Prizes are some of the most coveted awards in the arts, which of course includes theatre. One excellent show per year gets the sought-after prize, and amid all the great theatre that premieres each year, winning a Pulitzer puts a playwright and/or composer in a very special category of people.
This is true especially if they’ve won other awards: There’s a special variation on the already-rare EGOT honor (given to those who’ve won an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony Award) called the PEGOT, which includes the Pulitzer. (Lin-Manuel Miranda, for one, has this honor within reach.) Pulitzer winners and Best Play or Musical Tony winners are sometimes one and the same, and their accolades are often just the start of long Broadway runs and plenty of revivals down the line.
We’ve answered all your questions about the Pulitzer Prizes — what they are, when to find out this year’s Pulitzer winners, and which writers have set Pulitzer records and achieved Pulitzer firsts. Plus, check out all the Pulitzer-winning shows and writers represented on and off Broadway right now, and then get tickets to see these celebrated shows.
What is the Pulitzer Prize for Drama?
The Pulitzer Prize for Drama is an annual award that recognizes excellence in theatre. The Pulitzer Prize for Drama is one of many Pulitzer Prizes — a total of 21 are awarded each year, but the Drama prize was one of the original seven when the awards were founded in 1917. The prize is named for famous newspaper publisher Joseph Pulitzer. Columbia University in New York administers the Pulitzer Prizes, as the awards were founded when Pulitzer gave the university an endowment.
How many Pulitzer Prize winners are there per year?
There are 21 winners per year which are awarded across 21 total categories; besides drama, there are Pulitzers in categories like music, journalism, literature, and public service. Only one show gets the prestigious Pulitzer Prize for Drama each year. The winner of each category (either a person or group) is selected from three finalists. Even if a show doesn’t win, getting picked as a finalist is still a major honor.
When are the Pulitzer Prize winners announced?
Pulitzer Prize winners and finalists are announced each spring, generally in March or April, and the winners usually gather at a later ceremony at Columbia University to receive their prizes. In 2022, Pulitzer winners and finalists were announced on May 9, and James Ijames’s Fat Ham took home the prize.
Fun facts about the Pulitzer Prize for Drama
The Pulitzer Prize for Drama has a storied history filled with fun facts, having been around for 105 years and counting.
- Only 10 musicals have ever won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. In chronological order, they are Of Thee I Sing, South Pacific, Fiorello!, How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying, A Chorus Line, Sunday in the Park With George, Rent, Next to Normal, Hamilton, and A Strange Loop. How many have you seen?
- A Strange Loop achieved multiple firsts when it won the 2020 Pulitzer Prize. Michael R. Jackson’s show was the first musical by a Black writer to win, and the first musical to win the Pulitzer before playing on Broadway.
- Only one woman has won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama twice: Lynn Nottage. She won in 2009 for Ruined and in 2017 for Sweat.
- Nowadays, a five-person jury travels cross-country to see shows and chooses the annual winner, but the Pulitzer board can overrule their choice. This has happened 15 times, so no drama Pulitzers were awarded those years.
- Eugene O’Neill has the most Pulitzers of any playwright, winning four. He and Edward Albee would be tied, but one of Albee’s wins got overruled. The awards committee selected Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? for the 1963 prize, but the advisory board disallowed it because the play contained profanity and sexual themes.
- On the flip side, the 1955 awards committee didn’t want to give Tennessee Williams the Pulitzer for Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. In fact, the show was their last choice among the five nominees that year. However, Joseph Pulitzer, Jr. — the grandson of the awards' namesake — pressured them into choosing Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.
Pulitzer Prize-winning shows on Broadway
It’s rare to have so many acclaimed shows in one place at once, but if it’s possible anywhere, it’s possible on Broadway. Multiple Pulitzer-winning shows from the last few decades are taking the stage this season (and some never left since winning the prize). When you go see a Pulitzer Prize-winning play or musical, you know you’re in for some excellent theatre.
A Strange Loop
Don’t let the premise throw you for a loop: Black, queer writer Michael R. Jackson’s musical is about a Black, queer writer writing a musical about a Black, queer writer writing a… you get the idea. A Strange Loop premiered at Playwrights Horizons in 2019 and won the Pulitzer the next year. After playing a D.C. engagement, the show circled back to New York for its Broadway debut and picked up 11 Tony nominations. It went on to win the Tony for Best Musical in 2022.
Having just started a hip-hop revolution on Broadway and exploded to quick worldwide fame, Hamilton was practically a shoo-in for the 2016 Pulitzer Prize. Lin-Manuel Miranda’s show about the life of Founding Father Alexander Hamilton, as told with rap songs and a diverse cast, would go on to pick up 11 trophies at the 2016 Tony Awards, dubbed the “Hamiltonys.” “Hamil-Pulitzers” doesn’t have the same ring to it, but the prize cemented Miranda’s name and his show in theatre history.
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
The Pulitzer board of 1963 may have given this show the award reluctantly, but Cat on a Hot Tin Roof has stood the test of time and remains widely celebrated as an iconic American play. The story is set at the 65th birthday celebration of the patriarch “Big Daddy” at a family’s plantation house. As the family gradually learns that he’s dying, greed and revelations of past wrongs bubble up amid the festivities. A brand-new, modern production of Williams’s classic show is playing off Broadway in summer 2022.
Pulitzer Prize-winning writers on Broadway
Amid the Pulitzer-winning shows in New York right now, there are plenty of other shows that didn’t win the prize, but were written by playwrights who’ve won for other works. You can see the work of Pulitzer-winning writers at many shows this Broadway season, in which these award-winning writers’ talent still shines brightly through.
Katori Hall does it all. All kinds of writing, that is: She’s a screenwriter, playwright, and musical book writer. It’s her work as a playwright that earned her a Pulitzer: She won the 2021 prize for The Hot Wing King, about a group of Tennessee men preparing food for an annual “Hot Wang Festival.” Right now, you can see her work as a musical book writer on stage: She penned the libretto for Tina: The Tina Turner Musical, which tells her life story amid a rollicking lineup of all the singer’s greatest hits.
Lynn Nottage will forever be iconic for her double Pulitzer win. Her writing career is still going strong — maybe she’ll pick up another someday! In the meantime, she’s had a banner theatre year that rivals the years she won Pulitzers. For a brief period at the beginning of 2022, she had a play (Clyde’s), a musical (MJ, the Michael Jackson bio-musical for which she wrote the book), and an opera (Intimate Apparel, for which she adapted her same-named play into a libretto) playing in New York all at once. MJ The Musical is the only one you can catch right now, but new Nottage is always popping up. Maybe next season, she’ll debut her next Pulitzer-winning show.