the 2002 Pulitzer Prizes were announced in April, two Pomona College graduates
were among the 21 recipients.
Just before noon, reporter Barry Siegel 71 headed
to the L.A. Times main newsroom on the third floor. Reporters
being reporters, he explains, word had leaked a few weeks before
that he was a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize in the feature-writing category.
Most of the news staff was gathered there, waiting for the Pulitzer
announcements, which come to us as wire service stories on our computer
screens. We gathered in a great circle around one of our desk editors,
who sat at a computer, watching for the Pulitzer wire service stories.
Right at noon, L.A. time, they began to show up on her monitor in increments,
individual stories reporting each categorys winner as they were
announced in New York. The desk editor called out each winner as they
came across her screen. Finally they got to the feature categoryit
was about two-thirds down the list of categoriesand the desk editor
called out, In the feature category, Barry Siegel of the Los
Angeles Times. It was a great moment. The L.A. Times had another
Pulitzer winner in editorial writing, so there was a lot of cheering and
cameras going off. Then it was back to work.
For Pomonas other Pulitzer winner of 2002, however, Louis Menand
73, there was no such moment of dramanot even any advance
notice that his book, The Metaphysical Club: A Story of Ideas in America
(Farrar Straus & Giroux, 2001), was being considered for the Pulitzer
in U.S. history. For Menand, a staff writer at The New Yorker magazine
and professor of English at the Graduate Center of the City University
of New York, the news came in the form of a message from Western Union
followed by a call from an Associated Press reporter.
The two writers join an elite company of Pulitzer winners that also includes
Bill Keller 70 of The New York Times, who won a Pulitzer
in the International Reporting category in 1989 for his coverage of the
fall of communism in the Soviet Union.
The nicest part of winning a Pulitzer, notes Menand, is
that you hear from almost everyone you ever met. Everyone was so nice
and enthusiastic about itboth people I work with every day, and
people I havent seen in 20 years or more.
The Metaphysical Club has been touted as a masterwork in American intellectual
history. Beginning with the Civil War and ending with the 1919 Supreme
Court decision considered today to be the basis for the modern legal interpretation
of free speech, it is mainly the story of the ideas that shaped our nation
and its modern intellectual traditions, told through the lives of four
of the most important thinkers of that periodOliver Wendell Holmes
Jr., the dominant legal thinker of his time; William James, the father
of modern psychology in America; Charles Sanders Peirce, logician, scientist
and founder of semiotics; and philosopher John Dewey, student of Peirce,
friend and ally of James, and admirer of Holmes.
Menand is the author of one previously published book, Discovering
Modernism: T.S. Eliot and His Context (New York: Oxford University
Press, 1987) and the editor or co-editor of four other published volumes.
Siegel received his Pulitzer for a haunting portrait of a tortured father
on trial for negligence in the accidental death of his son and of the
judge who anguished over the case and its aftershocks. The story, A
Fathers Pain, a Judges Duty, and a Justice Beyond Their Reach:
A childs fate entwined the lives of two good men haunted by their
choices, was published in the Los Angeles Times on December
30. Siegel told the story mainly through the eyes of Summit County, Utah
Judge Robert Hilder, who struggled with the decision to convict the father
and then anguished further after the convicted man took his own life.
Siegel, who has worked for the Times since 1976, writes primarily magazine-length
features focusing on people struggling with moral and ethical issues.
A collection of his stories for the Times was published in a book titled
Shades of Gray: Ordinary People in Extraordinary Circumstance.
He is also the author of two nonfiction books and two novels, Actual
Innocence (2001) and Perfect Witness (1999).
In addition to the recognition, recipients of the Pulitzer Prize are invited
to an awards luncheon at Columbia University, where they receive a framed
certificate, a specially engraved Tiffany glass paperweight, and a check
I felt, says Siegel, as you might imagineterrific
and overwhelmed. I also felt very honored, thankful for having my work
recognized, and more than a little grateful for all the help Id
received from L.A. Times editors. If anything, my feelings have
only deepened with time. It was hard to absorb it all at the start. Only
now, with life returning to a normal keel, has it really sunk in that
I won the Pulitzer.