Pulitzers honor outstanding Yale writers

Monday was a very good day for two very deserving Yale writers who, because of monumental works of theater and reportage, have joined the University’s very long list of Pulitzer Prize winners. Samantha Power ’92 and Drama School professor Nilo Cruz were recognized yesterday for a book and a play respectively, and for the considerable social and artistic contributions of each. We acknowledge their tremendous achievements and feel a small swell of pride for Yale’s role in the cultivation of their talents. To the tiniest degree, their honor is ours.

Power, a former sports reporter for the News and a member of the 1992 editorial board, won the prize for general nonfiction for her human rights tome, “A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide.” In it, she painstakingly chronicles the horrors of the 20th century and details the U.S. government’s failure to respond. “When innocent life is being taken on such a scale and the United States has the power to stop the killing at reasonable risk,” Power writes, “‘it has a duty to act.” Power is a journalist of the highest order, and at any time the book would be prescient. Right now, when the issues of American intervention and global human rights loom large, it is a masterpiece.

Cruz, meanwhile, became the first Latino playwright to win the Pulitzer Prize for drama Monday, a year after Yale-affiliated playwright Suzan-Lori Parks became the first black woman to win in the same category. Bypassing three-time prize winner and anticipated recipient Edward Albee, the committee’s decision to award Cruz, a visiting professor, the Pulitzer is a significant one. His play, “Anna in the Tropics,” is set in a Tampa, Fla. cigar factory in 1929. It follows the factory workers’ responses to Leo Tolstoy’s “Anna Karenina,” read aloud to them all day every day and, like all of Cruz’s plays, involves Latino characters.

Following, as it does, a play by a black poet about black people, “Anna in the Tropics” reaffirms the committee’s support for minority playwrights and minority themes, a group and genre worthy of attention and recognition. Cruz’s Pulitzer also adds another award to the list of Drama School faculty accolades. It is more evidence that the school is continuing its tradition of seeking out promising and experimental playwrights, and that Dean James Bundy and other administrators are doing a good job of finding and supporting the most talented writers around.

We celebrate these two writers, as the Pulitzer Prize committee did, for drawing attention to people and events that otherwise often pass unnoticed. They are both young. They took risks and found tremendous success. Power and Cruz are two more examples of Yale’s ability to turn out people who break new ground and are not afraid to do what no one has done before them. Their ability and their passion are things to which we all aspire.

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