Michael R. Jackson and Jericho Brown - Pulitzer Prize winners
L-R: Michael R. Jackson and Jericho Brown (Photos: Twitter)

The annual Pulitzer Prizes were announced yesterday, and among the winners are two acclaimed gay writers.

Jericho Brown won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry with his third collection of poems, The Tradition, which was published in April 2019.

The winner of the Pulitzer Prize for drama was Michael R. Jackson, for his 2019 musical, A Strange Loop.

The Pulitzers have been awarded to those excelling in the fields of journalism and the arts since 1917. Yesterday’s awards were announced digitally because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Jericho Brown is believed to be the first gay, black man to win the prize for poetry. Born in Louisiana, he teaches English and creative writing at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia. His collection, The Tradition, explores how we’ve grown accustomed to terror – from mass shootings to rape to the murder of unarmed people by police.

The Pulitzer judges called the work, “a collection of masterful lyrics that combine delicacy with historical urgency in their loving evocation of bodies vulnerable to hostility and violence.”

In a statement published by Emory University, Brown said, “I have known about the Pulitzer Prize and understood its prestige since I was in elementary school and Rita Dove won it. And I’m so glad I understood it as one of the possibilities for a writer even when I was a kid.

“Understanding it as a possibility doesn’t mean I ever expected to win it, and getting the news that I won is the very best thing to happen to me in 2020 by far,” he said. “I didn’t expect to win it because when I write my poems I mean to be as subversive and radical as possible.”

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His win has been widely celebrated online, with one tweet highlighting it – and reshared by Brown – having over 100k likes.

Detroit-born Michael R. Jackson won the drama prize for his semi-autobiographical musical, A Strange Loop, which played off-Broadway last year. It also won the award for Best Musical of the 2019–2020 season by the New York Drama Critics Circle, and will enjoy a forthcoming run at Washington DC’s Woolly Mammoth theater in the fall (COVID-19 permitting).

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The show follows “Usher” – an usher for The Lion King on Broadway and “a black, queer writer, working a day job he hates while writing his original musical: a piece about a black, queer writer, working a day job he hates while writing his original musical.”

The judges called the work, “A metafictional musical that tracks the creative process of an artist transforming issues of identity, race, and sexuality that once pushed him to the margins of the cultural mainstream into a meditation on universal human fears and insecurities.”

Jackson becomes the first black writer to win the drama prize with a work of musical theatre. It’s also the first time the Pulitzer drama prize has been won by a production that didn’t play on Broadway. You can watch a trailer for A Strange Loop below.

On Twitter, Jackson expressed his joy at winning: “Never in my wildest dreams. NEVER. IN MY. WILDEST. DREAMS. Thank you to everyone who has supported me on my journey to such an incredible honor. I’m sure I’ll have more to say once I’ve caught my breath and looked at all these text messages and emails but for now, THANK YOU.”

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