PULITZER WINNER: Weingarten’s Subway ‘Stunt’ Wins Him Feature Prize

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By: Dave Astor

Gene Weingarten won this year’s Pulitzer Prize for feature writing for a Washington Post Magazine story about a famous violinist playing at a D.C. metro station. But he’s also a humor columnist.

That was apparent in a prepared Pulitzer comment he wrote that was sent to E&P yesterday by Weingarten’s syndicate, the Washington Post Writers Group.

“While this award is technically not for my columns but for my feature writing,” Weingarten said, “I consider it an endorsement of the excellence of absolutely everything I do: humor writing, parallel parking, lovemaking, etc.

“So in that regard, using the same bold, broad-brush logic, I think all the clients of my column have a right to claim that they, too, won the Pulitzer Prize today.”

The Pulitzer-winning story by Weingarten — who couldn’t be immediately reached for comment by E&P — focused on virtuoso violinist Joshua Bell. Weingarten had thought of the idea to have Bell play at a metro station during rush hour to see whether “ordinary people would recognize genius” in a context where they’re weren’t expecting it.

As it turned out, Weingarten’s April 2007 story showed that few of the people hurrying to work paid much attention to Bell — though there were exceptions.

But many people did pay attention to Weingarten’s article. “This story got the largest and most global response of anything I have ever written, for any publication,” he said, as quoted in the WPWG release.

There was plenty of praise for the story’s concept and excellent writing — as well as for its audio and video elements. But there was also some criticism about the “stunt” nature of the piece.

Kevin Drum of Washington Monthly wrote last April: “I’m sorry, but this is just idiotic. No one recognized Bell because even famous violinists don’t have famous faces. No one cared much about his music because probably no more than five people out of a hundred enjoy classical music at all…. Plus, of course, IT WAS A METRO STATION. People needed to get to work on time so their bosses wouldn’t yell at them.”

WPWG Editorial Director Alan Shearer told E&P that Weingarten “engages” and “entertains” his readers. “Gene hooks them early and keeps them hooked until the very end,” he added. “His style is way too rare in newspapers today.”

The Pulitzer-winning piece by Weingarten — whose syndicated humor column is called “Below the Beltway” — can be seen here.

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