When the 2004 Pulitzer Prizes were awarded Monday, two Yale graduates were among the recipients.
Washington Post editorial columnist Anne Applebaum ’86 and “Quills” screenwriter Doug Wright ’85 each received an award, which comes with a $10,000 cash prize. Applebaum was awarded in the general non-fiction category for her book “Gulag: A History.” Wright won the drama prize for “I Am My Own Wife.”
Applebaum said her time at Yale helped prepare her to write her book, which explores Soviet concentration camps.
“My senior thesis was about the Russian Revolution,” she said. “I entered Yale not knowing any Russian and I left being able to speak it. If I didn’t know Russian, obviously I wouldn’t have been able to write the book. I don’t think I would say everything I know about Russian history I learned at Yale, but it was certainly a foundation.”
Applebaum was afraid people might find the subject of her book “too obscure and too gloomy,” she said. She still is not sure whether many people will read the book, she said, but is happy to have the Pulitzer Committee’s approval.
She did not know if news of the award would help her book’s sales, but she is glad the honor brings recognition to the subject, she said. Another 2004 Pulitzer Prize honoree, William Taubman, who won for his biography “Khrushchev: The Man and His Era,” addressed a similar time period in his work. Applebaum said she hopes more books addressing the Soviet era will be published soon.
“We’re finally seeing the fruit of the work people have been doing in the archives, and it’s great,” Applebaum said. “It really changes what we know about the history of the Soviet Union.”
Wright, whose play tells the story of a German transvestite during World War II and the years following, could not be reached for an interview Monday.
Applebaum visited Yale to deliver a master’s tea and a lecture in November 2003 under the Eustace D. Theodore ’63 Fellowship Program. The fellowship, which is underwritten by the class of 1963, provides sponsorship alumni visitors who “made curious use of a Yale education,” Executive Director of the Association of Yale Alumni Jeff Brenzel said.
Brenzel said he had been excited to bring Applebaum to campus after hearing about her book.
“When her book came out, I called around to some folks on campus, and their response was immediate. They said this was a really superb book on a topic that’s hard to address,” Brenzel said.
During her visit, Applebaum was also impressed — with the changed look of the Yale campus.
“I was impressed with how wonderful the University looked. All the colleges were fixed up,” Applebaum said. “Everything was so beautiful and the people looked so healthy.”
Applebaum was also impressed with Yale students’ knowledge of Soviet history and said it was “certainly more than the general population’s.”
Each spring, Pulitzer Prizes are awarded in up to 14 journalistic categories that include writing, cartooning and photography and in up to seven literature and drama categories. Prize committee board members vote on the finalists and recipients.