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Eugenides Awarded Pulitzer Prize for Middlesex

Awards have history of nods to gay authors, subjects

Author Jeffrey Eugenides won his first Pulitzer Prize for Literature for 'Middlesex,' an eight-generation family saga told from the perspective of an intersexed narrator who changes his gender identity halfway through the book. (Photo by Petr David Josek/AP)
Two 2003 winners of the coveted Pulitzer Prizes that were announced April 7 touch on gay and transgender issues, highlighting the awards' increasingly progressive record supporting excellence in journalism, literature, music and drama regardless of the sexual orientation or gender identity of its topics or authors.

"Middlesex" by Jeffrey Eugenides, which follows a family across eight generations through the eyes of an intersexed narrator, won the 2003 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. The Boston Globe won the award for Public Service Journalism for its coverage of last year's Catholic priest sexual abuse scandal.

"Middlesex" tells the story of a Greek-American family from the perspective of a protagonist first called Callie, then called Cal, who has genitals of both sexes, was raised as a girl and later identifies as male.

"I take things that are a little bit freaky, and I de-freak them," Eugenides told National Public Radio. "This story, when you read it, becoming a hermaphrodite is not something that we all don't experience. It's really closer to what everyone feels in puberty and what everybody feels growing up. It's sort of a symbolic story for … an experience that is very common to all of us."

Eugenides, a heterosexual biological male, is also a National Book Critics Circle Finalist and a Transgendered Fiction Finalist for the Lambda Literary Awards, which focuses recognition each year on books with gay or transgender subject matter.

The "Lammys" are scheduled to be awarded May 29 in Los Angeles.

The Boston Globe won its Pulitzer for "courageous, comprehensive coverage of sexual abuse by priests, an effort that piereced secrecy, stirred local, national and international reaction and produced changes in the Roman Catholic Church," according to a statement from the Pulitzer board.

Gay playwright edged out

Two plays by gay writers were 2003 finalists in the Drama category but did not win the Pulitzer. Edward Albee, the single most recognized gay Pulitzer winner, and Richard Greenberg were the finalists who bowed to "Anna in the Tropics" by Nilo Cruz.

"Take Me Out," Greenberg's fictional tale of a star Major League Baseball player who comes out as gay, follows a string of the writer's popular plays that tackle gay subject matter.

When the awards were announced, Greenberg didn't expect to win and went to Yankee Stadium for opening day amid a new passion for baseball that inspired the play, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.

"I was planning to leave my cell phone at home, because I didn't want anything to ruin the day," Greenberg told the paper. "But my agent made it very clear that I just couldn't do that."

Greenberg said that he was "really not at all convinced" that he would win anyway.

"Anna in the Tropics" also edged out Albee's "The Goat or Who is Sylvia?" — the writer's fifth finalist nod for the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. He has walked away with award three times: in 1967 for "A Delicate Balance," in 1975 for "Seascape" and in 1994 for "Three Tall Women."

In a controversial decision, Albee's most famous play was recommended by a jury for a Pulitzer but didn't become a finalist.

"In 1963, the Drama jury nominated Edward Albee's 'Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?,' but the board found the script insufficiently 'uplifting,' a complaint that related to arguments over sexual permissiveness and rough dialogue," according to Seymour Topping, administrator of the Pulitzer Prizes until 2002.

As is its purview, the board elected not to offer a 1963 award in Drama despite the jury's recommendation of Albee for the award.

The panel sometimes chooses not to give awards in all of its 21 categories.

Not 'captive to popular inclinations'

The Pulitzer Prizes Board reviews recommendations from expert panels of jurors in any given category. Board members only vote on works they have read or seen performed.

"Over the years, the Pulitzer board has at times been targeted by critics for awards made or not made," Topping said. "Controversies also have arisen over decisions made by the board counter to the advice of juries. … The board has not been captive to popular inclinations."

The Pulitzer Board, a collection of professors at Columbia University's Joseph Pulitzer School of Journalism as well as newspaper executives and scholars from around the country, has grown less conservative on social issues, Topping said.

The contrast between the views of the board against Albee in 1963 and a sweeping win for another gay playwright points up the difference, he said.

"In 1993, the prize went to Tony Kushner's 'Angels in America: Millennium Approaches,' a play that dealt with problems of homosexuality and AIDS and whose script was replete with obscenities," Topping said.

The list of gay Pulitzer winners probably started with the 1923 Pulitzer Prize for a Novel to "One of Ours" by Willa Cather, whose lesbian inclinations were proven by scholars after her death.

After Albee, the most recognizable name on the list of gay winners is Tennessee Williams, who won two Pulitzer Prizes for Drama: "A Streetcar Named Desire" in 1948 and "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" in 1955.

The 1980s and '90s saw a surge in gay winners as news coverage and arts dealt with the AIDS epidemic. The Pulitzer Prize Board has recognized 14 Journalism winners for coverage of AIDS issues since 1985, and the Drama prize in 1993 was dominated by AIDS plays. Kushner's "Angels in America" won out over "The Destiny of Me" by Larry Kramer.

The '90s also saw an uptick on the winner's list for other gay issues and gay writers. Four Journalism prizes for gay topics went out, including articles on civil unions, gay male culture and domestic partner benefits.

Terrence McNally's "A Perfect Ganesh," Jonathan Larson's "Rent" and Atlanta resident Margaret Edson's "Wit" all pulled Pulitzers for Drama in the '90s. Michael Cunningham's "The Hours" won the prize for Fiction in 1999.

In 2000, gay former Village Voice reporter Mark Schoofs won for International Reporting on AIDS in Africa.

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