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.
Death of a Salesman
Death of a Salesman has been continuously hailed as as one of the best American plays of the 20th century. Its 1949 Pulitzer Prize (and four Tony Awards, for its original production and multiple revivals) further prove that true. Miller's drama is a expertly written portrait of one man's declining mental state, as he approaches the end of his career and his life and must accept his failings. Celebrities like Philip Seymour Hoffman and Dustin Hoffman have stepped into the title salesman's shoes, and in the latest Broadway revival, it's The Wire star Wendell Pierce's turn, reprising his acclaimed performance from London.
Cost of Living
Martyna Majok's play is a recent Pulitzer honoree, having won the prize in 2018. Her play centers on two pairs of people: Ani and Eddie, and John and Jess. Ani and John both have disabilities, and Eddie and Jess are their caretakers. However, who is giving and receiving care shifts as the pairs' relationships change, and the play demonstrates the universal human need for care, connection, and support. Besides winning the Pulitzer Prize, the play received multiple accolades for its Off-Broadway premiere. Two of the acclaimed stars from that production, Katy Sullivan and Gregg Mozgala, return for the Broadway premiere, along with their multi-award-winning director, Jo Bonney.
A 2002 Pulitzer Prize win was just the start of an acclaimed life for Suzan-Lori Parks's play. It won the Outer Critics Circle Award for playwriting and got a Tony nomination for Best Play. To top it off, in 2018, The New York Times named Topdog/Underdog the best American play of the past 25 years. Now, see Corey Hawkins and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II bring the first Broadway revival of the show to life. They play Lincoln and Booth, two adult brothers who have to cope with the effects racism, poverty, and their troubled childhoods have had on their lives.
The Piano Lesson
The Piano Lesson hit all the right notes in 1990, winning the Pulitzer that year. Samuel L. Jackson, Danielle Brooks, and John David Washington star in the first Broadway revival of August Wilson's play about the importance of family history. Jackson plays an elder uncle who narrates his family's storied past, and Brooks and Washington play adult siblings who argue over how to best honor that past: by keeping an old piano with the faces of their ancestors carved into it, or selling the piano to buy the land where their ancestors labored as slaves.
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 and composers who've won for other works. You can see the work of Pulitzer-winning writers on Broadway right now, in which these award-winning writers' talent still shines brightly through.
Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine
Longtime collaborators Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine are behind multiple celebrated Broadway musicals. But only one, Sunday in the Park with George, won the Pulitzer Prize, becoming only the sixth musical to do so in 1985. If you missed its last Broadway revival, which starred Jake Gyllenhaal and Annaleigh Ashford in 2017, you can still catch another one of the duo's best-known shows: Into the Woods. Right now, this three-time Tony-winning fairytale mashup is back on stage with a star-studded cast of its own.
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.
Tom Kitt, together with Brian Yorkey, won the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for Next to Normal, a story about a family affected by mental illness that revolutionized the idea of what musicals can be about. That's a fairly mature show, but audiences of all ages can now hear his excellent music, as he's doubly represented in New York this season. He composed the new stage adaptation of the hit 2005 movie Almost Famous, teaming up with the film's original screenwriter, Cameron Crowe. And for the youngsters, he composed new songs for the new musical adaptation of Sesame Street off Broadway, which kids can hear alongside their favorite songs from the show.
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