The Pulitzer Prize, as we know it, was first initiated on 4 June 1917. The award borrows its name from the firebrand newspaper publisher Joseph Pulitzer, who, in his 1904 will, made the provision of awarding prizes for excellence in journalism, literature, and music in the United States.
On the occasion of the 101st anniversary since the Pulitzer Prize was first awarded, let us look at how many Indians or Indian-origin persons have bagged the award for their exemplary work in the literary field.
Let us first start with the field of journalism, where at least six Indians have been part of teams that have been bestowed the Pulitzer Prize.
The Forgotten First
India’s first tryst with the award came 81 years ago, in 1937, when Gobind Behari Lal won the Pulitzer Prize along with four others for their coverage in the field of science.
Lal also participated in the Indian Independence movement, and was the son of Bishan Lal, the governor of the princely state of Bikaner.
He studied at the University of California in Berkeley on a Guru Govind Singh Sahib scholarship and later became the science editor of The San Francisco Examiner.
India’s 21st Century Pulitzer Glory
As we entered the 21st century, the prominence of the Pulitzer Prize became even more pronounced. In 2003, it was Mumbai-born Geeta Anand’s turn to bask in Pulitzer glory. As an investigative reporter and feature writer for The Wall Street Journal, Anand won the award for her investigative writing on the corporate scandals in America.
The Pulitzer Prize committee picked 10 articles from The Wall Street Journal for the award, two of which were authored by her. Not just that, Anand’s book on medical investigation, The Cure, has been made into a successful film, Extraordinary Measures.
Thirteen years later, in 2016, another Indian-American woman journalist etched her name in the prestigious Pulitzer list for journalism.
Sanghamitra Kalita, the managing editor of LA Times, was part of the team which won the Pulitzer in the Breaking News reporting category. Born in New York City's Brooklyn to Assamese parents, she was raised in Long Island, Puerto Rico, and New Jersey.
Kalita and her team bagged the award for the coverage of San Bernardino shooting and the terror investigation that followed.
The Two Photojournalists
And finally, in 2018, it was a watershed moment for Indian journalism when two Indian photojournalists won the Pulitzer Prize.
Reuters photographer Danish Siddiqui received the prestigious award for a picture of a Rohingya refugee man pulling a child as they walk to the shore after crossing the Bangladesh-Myanmar border by boat.
Siddiqui’s colleague, Adnan Abidi, won the Pulitzer for a picture of a Rohingya father’s hand on his seven-year-old boy, who was shot in his chest before crossing the border from Myanmar.
But wait, it's not just Indian journalists who have tasted Pulitzer success over the last 100 years. As it turns out, three Indian-origin persons have won the award in the categories of fiction, general non-fiction, and poetry.
When Pulitzer Became a Household Name
Jhumpa Lahiri became a household name when the Indian-American author won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction for her book Interpreters of Maladies in 2000.
In 2011, Indian-American cancer physician and researcher Siddhartha Mukherjee won the prize in the general non-fiction category for an elegant work documenting the history of cancer – The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer. Mukherjee, an assistant professor of medicine at Columbia University and a Rhodes scholar, graduated from the Harvard Medical School.
And three years later, in 2014, New-York based Vijay Seshadri became the third person of Indian origin to win the Pulitzer Prize in a non-journalism category – for his poem 3 Sections.