Your guide to the Pulitzer Prizes: fun facts and Pulitzer-winning shows to see right now
The Pulitzer Prize. It just sounds fancy and prestigious. And it is: The Pulitzer Prizes are some of the most coveted awards in the arts, which of course includes theatre. One excellent show per year gets the sought-after prize, and amid all the great theatre that premieres each year, winning a Pulitzer puts a playwright and/or composer in a very special category of people.
This is true especially if they’ve won other awards: There’s a special variation on the already-rare EGOT honor (given to those who’ve won an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony Award) called the PEGOT, which includes the Pulitzer. (Lin-Manuel Miranda, for one, has this honor within reach.) Pulitzer winners and Best Play Tony winners are sometimes one and the same, and their accolades are often just the start of long Broadway runs and plenty of revivals down the line.
We’ve answered all your questions about the Pulitzer Prizes — what they are, when to find out this year’s Pulitzer winners, and which writers have set Pulitzer records and achieved Pulitzer firsts. Plus, check out all the Pulitzer-winning shows and writers represented on and off Broadway right now, and then get tickets to see these celebrated shows on TodayTix.
What is the Pulitzer Prize for Drama?
The Pulitzer Prize for Drama is an annual award that recognizes excellence in theatre. The Pulitzer Prize for Drama is one of many Pulitzer Prizes — a total of 21 are awarded each year, but the Drama prize was one of the original seven when the awards were founded in 1917. The prize is named for famous newspaper publisher Joseph Pulitzer. Columbia University in New York administers the Pulitzer Prizes, as the awards were founded when Pulitzer gave the university an endowment.
How many Pulitzer Prize winners are there per year?
There are 21 winners per year which are awarded across 21 total categories; besides drama, there are Pulitzers in categories like music, journalism, literature, and public service. Only one show gets the prestigious Pulitzer Prize for Drama each year. The winner of each category (either a person or group) is selected from three finalists. Even if a show doesn’t win, getting picked as a finalist is still a major honor!
When are the Pulitzer Prize winners announced?
Pulitzer Prize winners and finalists are announced each spring, generally in March or April, and the winners usually gather at a later ceremony at Columbia University to receive their prizes. In 2022, Pulitzer winners and finalists were announced on May 9, and James Ijames’s Fat Ham took home the prize.
Fun facts about the Pulitzer Prize for Drama
The Pulitzer Prize for Drama has a storied history filled with fun facts, having been around for 105 years and counting.
- Only 10 musicals have ever won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. In chronological order, they are Of Thee I Sing, South Pacific, Fiorello!, How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying, A Chorus Line, Sunday in the Park With George, Rent, Next to Normal, Hamilton, and A Strange Loop. How many have you seen?
- A Strange Loop achieved multiple firsts when it won the 2020 Pulitzer Prize. Michael R. Jackson’s show was the first musical by a Black writer to win, and the first musical to win the Pulitzer before playing on Broadway.
- Only one woman has won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama twice: Lynn Nottage. She won in 2009 for Ruined and in 2017 for Sweat.
- Nowadays, a five-person jury travels cross-country to see shows and chooses the annual winner, but the Pulitzer board can overrule their choice. This has happened 15 times, so no drama Pulitzers were awarded those years.
- Eugene O’Neill has the most Pulitzers of any playwright, winning four. He and Edward Albee would be tied, but one of Albee’s wins got overruled. The awards committee selected Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? for the 1963 prize, but the advisory board disallowed it because the play contained profanity and sexual themes.
- On the flip side, the 1955 awards committee didn’t want to give Tennessee Williams the Pulitzer for Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. In fact, the show was their last choice among the five nominees that year. However, Joseph Pulitzer, Jr. pressured them into choosing Cat on a Hot Tin Roof — guess you can do that when the award is named after your grandfather.
Pulitzer Prize-winning shows on Broadway
It’s rare to have so many acclaimed shows in one place at once, but if it’s possible anywhere, it’s possible on Broadway. Multiple Pulitzer-winning shows from the last few decades are taking the stage this season (and some never left since winning the prize). When you go see a Pulitzer Prize-winning play or musical, you know you’re in for some excellent theatre.
A Strange Loop
Don’t let the premise throw you for a loop: Black, queer writer Michael R. Jackson’s musical is about a Black, queer writer writing a musical about a Black, queer writer writing a… you get the idea. A Strange Loop ran at Playwrights Horizons in 2019 and won the Pulitzer the next year. After playing a D.C. engagement, the show circles back to New York for its Broadway debut.
How I Learned to Drive
Paula Vogel’s blistering play about a woman named Li’l Bit, who tries to regain control of her life after being sexually abused by her Uncle Peck for years, took home the 1998 Pulitzer Prize. The show’s Off-Broadway premiere had already received near-universal critical acclaim by the time Vogel won the Pulitzer, including for its lead actors: Mary-Louise Parker and David Morse. The pair reunite for the long-awaited Broadway premiere of How I Learned to Drive, parked at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre through May.
Having just started a hip-hop revolution on Broadway and exploded to quick worldwide fame, Hamilton was practically a shoo-in for the 2016 Pulitzer Prize. Lin-Manuel Miranda’s show about the life of Founding Father Alexander Hamilton, as told with rap songs and a diverse cast, would go on to pick up 11 trophies at the 2016 Tony Awards, dubbed the “Hamiltonys.” “Hamil-Pulitzers” doesn’t have the same ring to it, but the prize cemented Miranda’s name and his show in theatre history.
The latest Pulitzer winner snagged the prize before playing a single New York performance! Fat Ham won the 2022 Pulitzer Prize for Drama three days before starting its New York-premiere run at The Public Theater on May 12; it was previously broadcast virtually in 2021 with Philadelphia’s Wilma Theater. James Ijames’s play reimagines Shakespeare’s Hamlet with a Black, queer college student at its center. Tasked with avenging his father’s murder at a Southern family barbecue, he questions whether violence is the only way to do so.
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
The Pulitzer board of 1963 may have given this show the award reluctantly, but Cat on a Hot Tin Roof has stood the test of time and remains widely celebrated as an iconic American play. The story is set at the 65th birthday celebration of the patriarch “Big Daddy” at a family’s plantation house. As the family gradually learns that he’s dying, greed and revelations of past wrongs bubble up amid the festivities. A brand-new, modern production of Williams’s classic show is playing off Broadway in summer 2022.
Pulitzer Prize-winning writers on Broadway
Amid the Pulitzer-winning shows in New York right now, there are plenty of other shows that didn’t win the prize, but were written by playwrights who’ve won for other works. You can see the work of Pulitzer-winning writers at many shows this Broadway season, in which these award-winning writers’ talent still shines brightly through.
If the Broadway theatre named after him hasn’t convinced you of Simon’s legendary talent, maybe his Pulitzer will. He won in 1991 for Lost in Yonkers, a dramatic play about a teenager’s coming of age in a dysfunctional family. Simon is best known for his comedic writing, though, and that’s what’s on display in Plaza Suite on Broadway right now. Simon’s farce stars Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew Broderick as three couples navigating relationship issues in Suite 719 of the Plaza Hotel.
Katori Hall does it all. All kinds of writing, that is: She’s a screenwriter, playwright, and musical book writer. It’s her work as a playwright that earned her a Pulitzer: She won the 2021 prize for The Hot Wing King, about a group of Tennessee men preparing food for an annual “Hot Wang Festival.” Right now, you can see her work as a musical book writer on stage: She penned the libretto for Tina: The Tina Turner Musical, which tells her life story amid a rollicking lineup of all the singer’s greatest hits.
The late, great Stephen Sondheim has dozens of accolades to his name, and with all his contributions to musical theatre, it’s no wonder that a Pulitzer Prize for Drama is one of them. He and James Lapine shared the 1985 prize for writing Sunday in the Park with George, inspired by the artist Georges Seurat and his famous A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte painting.
Fifteen years earlier, Sondheim wrote the music and lyrics for Company, a series of musical vignettes about a bachelor feeling pressure from married friends to settle down. The show is currently having its third Broadway revival, with the bachelor Bobby switched to the bachelorette Bobbie. We’ll drink to that!
Tracy Letts is both an actor and playwright, and he’s won awards for both. It’s his writing, though, that earned him the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Letts won for the tragic family portrait August: Osage County, which also took home five Tonys including Best Play. Now, Letts is doing double duty with his newest play, The Minutes. The big-time writer is also acting in his show as a member of a small-town council that guards its town’s myths and secrets very closely — until one council meeting when truths come out.
Which would you rather have: a buffalo nickel or a Pulitzer Prize? If you ask the American Buffalo characters, hustlers who concoct an elaborate scheme to get a priceless nickel back after underselling it, they’d probably want the nickel. But the Pulitzer Prize comes with a $15,000 prize, so you never know. In any case, playwright David Mamet is enjoying the best of both worlds. Besides getting acclaim for American Buffalo, which is launching its third Broadway revival starring Laurence Fishburne, Sam Rockwell, and Darren Criss, he’s also won the 1984 prize for another play: Glengarry Glen Ross.
Lynn Nottage will forever be iconic for her double Pulitzer win. Her writing career is still going strong — maybe she’ll pick up another someday! In the meantime, she’s had a banner theatre year that rivals the years she won Pulitzers. For a brief period at the beginning of 2022, she had a play (Clyde’s), a musical (MJ, the Michael Jackson bio-musical for which she wrote the book), and an opera (Intimate Apparel, for which she adapted her same-named play into a libretto) playing in New York all at once. MJ The Musical is the only one you can catch right now, but new Nottage is always popping up. Maybe next season, she’ll debut her next Pulitzer-winning show.
Technically, Aaron Sorkin penned the stage adaptation of To Kill a Mockingbird that’s taken Broadway and now London by storm. (He hasn’t won a Pulitzer, but he has won multiple film awards.) But we wouldn’t have Sorkin’s stage play without Harper Lee’s original 1960 novel, which won the Pulitzer Prize for Literature that year. In the 60-plus years since, the story of young Scout Finch’s loss of childhood innocence and awakening to racism, amid the rape trial of an innocent Black man who her father Atticus represents, has remained one of the landmark classics of American literature. The To Kill a Mockingbird play is on a Broadway hiatus, but the show returns June 1.