A new exhibit at the Penn State University Libraries commemorates the centennial of the Pulitzer Prize with Pulitzer-related materials from the libraries’ arts and humanities collections. “100 Years of the Pulitzers: Celebrating Our Humanity,” will be on display through Aug. 30 in the Diversity Studies Room, 203 Pattee Library.
The exhibit features the works of Pulitzer Prize-winning fiction and nonfiction writers, poets and playwrights who have championed the cause of social equality and democracy and who have significantly impacted American art and culture. The exhibit features more than 50 Pulitzer-winning display items, drawing on the libraries’ assortment of book titles, as well as multimedia excerpts of Pulitzer Prize-winning plays, musical scores, fiction and poetry readings and artist interviews.
“The University Libraries is the heart of the University, and this exhibit gives us the opportunity to showcase the incredible depth and diversity of our collections,” said Jeff Knapp, Penn State University Libraries’ Larry and Ellen Foster communications librarian and the exhibit’s co-curator.
The exhibit is part of a campus-wide commemoration of the Pulitzer Prize centennial, including events sponsored by the College of Communications, the School of Music and the Center for Performing Arts, and supports the spirit of the “All In at Penn State: A Commitment to Diversity and Inclusion” initiative.
A companion exhibit, “100 Years of the Pulitzers: Celebrating our Musicality,” is located near the entrance to Pattee Library’s Music and Media Center on the second floor of West Pattee Library. It highlights several Pulitzer winners for music and award-winning scores and recordings in the libraries’ collections and will be on display through the spring 2017 semester.
Knapp was approached about the idea for the exhibit by John Dillon, Norman Eberly professor of practice in journalism in the College of Communications. Dillon had heard about the Pulitzer centennial at a conference, where the Pulitzer Committee decided to hold a “Campfires Initiative” to encourage cultural and educational institutions to commemorate the centennial in various ways. Dillon then asked if the libraries would be interested in holding something, Knapp said.
“I’m always trying to get the libraries involved in all facets of university life, so I jumped at the opportunity,” he said. “One thing lead to another, and we got the Center for Performing Arts and the School of Music on board to offer some performances of Pulitzer Prize-winner musical pieces. The College of Communications sponsored a panel discussion of Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists in September.”
The Pulitzer Prize was the brainchild of Hungarian-American newspaper magnate Joseph Pulitzer, who bequeathed several million dollars to Columbia University to administer the award. In 1917, Columbia University trustees ushered in the start of what is now considered one of the most prestigious national honors.
The exhibit highlights current Pulitzer recipients, such as Lin-Manuel Miranda, winner of the 2016 Pulitzer in drama for the Broadway hit, “Hamilton,” as well as lesser-known authors, such as Laura Elizabeth Richards and Maude Howe Elliott, who were jointly awarded the 1917 Pulitzer for their biography of their mother, Julia Ward Howe, abolitionist, suffragist and writer of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.”
“I see the Pulitzers as awards that recognize excellence, and in libraries, we try to do the same thing: recognize the treasures of our culture and our intellectual discourse, and make sure they are preserved and made accessible,” Knapp said.
Visitors to the exhibit can learn about the history and administration of the Pulitzer Prize, discover notable facts about its recipients, and become apprised of Pulitzer Prize controversies and historical milestones. Additionally, visitors have the opportunity to challenge themselves with a Pulitzer quiz, and explore a map of arts and letters winners who have been affiliated with Penn State or Pennsylvania.
The Diversity Studies Room, where the exhibit is located, is a popular study space for students, and Knapp is happy to know that students will be walking by it and getting a glimpse of it.
“Hopefully a few of them will stop and do some reading,” he said. “Christina Coyle, our exhibits coordinator, has done a great job of not only piecing the exhibit together, but in being sure that people can see how to access each of the items in our collection.”
Being in the Diversity Studies Room, the exhibit affords the libraries the opportunity to highlight not only Pulitzer Prize-winning works by Pennsylvanians, but also by and about people of color and other underrepresented Americans.
“We were lucky to recruit Alia Gant and Jose Guerrero, our diversity resident librarians, to curate many of the significant works in the collection,” Knapp said. “The narrative of diversity in society often focuses on differences, but my hope is that by openly talking about our differences, we can learn more about what we share in common: we fall in love; we get angry; we rejoice; we mourn.”
Libraries have traditionally been repositories of amazing sources of knowledge and also play a role in promoting scholarship — Knapp believes this collection is a way to share that.
“We want people to see some of the amazing work that the Pulitzers have recognized from many different segments of society,” he said. “We also want people to think about the important role the humanities play in our lives. I’ve always seen the humanities about what we want to live for, and I think it’s important for us to reflect on that from time to time.”
The exhibit is free and open to the public during Pattee Library’s Arts and Humanities Library operating hours.
IF YOU GO
- What: “100 Years of the Pulitzers: Celebrating our Humanity”
- When: through Aug. 30
- Where: Diversity Studies Room, 203 Pattee Library, University Park