Pulitzer Prize board expands eligibility pool for arts awards to non-U.S. citizens

FILE - Signage for The Pulitzer Prizes appear at Columbia University on May 28, 2019, in New York. The Pulitzer Prize Board has revised its longtime rules on eligibility for many of its arts awards, and will now allow those not born in the U.S. and other non-citizens to compete. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews, File)
The Pulitzer Prize board has revised its eligibility requirements for its arts awards. (Bebeto Matthews / Associated Press)

The Pulitzer Prize Board announced Tuesday that it will be expanding eligibility for its books, drama and music awards to include some non-U.S. citizens.

Per the committee's current rules, the prizes given to authors, playwrights and musicians had previously been available only for U.S. citizens, but starting with the 2025 Pulitzer Prizes the awards will be open to permanent U.S. residents and "those who have made the United States their longtime primary home."

The rule will apply to all eight Pulitzer categories. The prizes for journalism remain unaffected, as people of all nationalities have long been eligible for the awards so long as their work has been published by a U.S. media outlet.

Notably, the Pulitzer Prizes were named after Joseph Pulitzer, a Hungarian immigrant who looked to highlight achievements in U.S. writing.

Read more: Zamora: It's time for the Pulitzer Prize for literature to accept noncitizens

One award that was previously exempt from the U.S.-citizen requirement was the history category, which was open to writers of any nationality so long as the books centered on U.S. history. This category will be changed to reflect the same rules that apply to the other arts categories.

Following an August petition on the literary sites Literary Hub and Undocupoets to reconsider the U.S. citizenship requirements for the arts prizes, the Pulitzer board addressed the issue.

"We take this issue seriously and appreciate your engagement," Pulitzer administrator Marjorie Miller wrote in an official statement addressing the sites' petition in August. "As noted in our email received by LitHub on Aug. 9, the Pulitzer Board has been discussing the citizenship issue since last year and will address it at our fall meeting."

The petition, which was signed by many prominent authors, was created in part because of the passionate case that author Javier Zamora made against the Pulitzer's U.S. citizen requirements in a De Los opinion piece titled "It’s time for the Pulitzer Prize for literature to accept noncitizens."

Read more: At 9, Javier Zamora walked 4,000 miles to the U.S. At 29, he was ready to tell the story

"In 2022, I published my memoir and second book, 'Solito.' Months before, my editor and agent explained that because I wasn’t a citizen there were prizes I wasn’t eligible for," wrote Zamora, who was born in El Salvador. "I was disheartened and surprised to once again encounter this 'checking of papers' in the literary arts — a field I truly believed to be a liberal haven and different from the xenophobia that persists in this country."

He would go on to call out the Pulitzer Prize committee specifically and note the emotional toll it took on him.

"Notably, the Pulitzer Prizes, arguably the highest profile, most important literary, artistic and journalist prizes in the U.S., remain closed to writers like myself — someone who has lived in this country since I was a child and who writes about the quintessential American topic, coming to America," he wrote.

Read more: The mental health toll of being the lone green card holder in your family

Zamora added, "After 19 years in this country and with all I had worked to achieve, I still wasn’t enough to be equally considered alongside anyone who has the privilege to have been born in the United States. In other words like a human being. As a previously undocumented person, all I’ve ever wanted was to be considered the same as everyone else. Defined by my merit and not by the place of my birth or the lack of 'documentation.'"

Of the new eligibility requirements, Pulitzer Prize co-chairs Tommie Shelby and Neil Brown wrote in a statement, "The Board is enthusiastic about ensuring that the Prizes are inclusive and accessible to those producing distinguished work in books, drama and music. This expansion of eligibility is an appropriate update of our rules and compatible with the goals Joseph Pulitzer had in establishing these awards."

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.