Gates Plans Diversity Push as Pulitzer Chair

By: Joe Strupp Henry Louis Gates Jr., the newly appointed chair of the Pulitzer Prize Board, said he would like to see the board appoint its first Hispanic member soon. He'll also push for more diversity on the juries that pick finalists in the letters and drama categories.

Gates, who is the third African American to chair the board, said the make up of the 14 juries that choose journalism finalists -- which range in size from five to seven each -- appear to be diverse. But he noted that the three-person juries choosing the seven non-journalism finalists need some ethnic mix.

"Get more people of color, more Hispanics, and more women on those juries," Gates told E&P today, the day after he was appointed chairman of the 19-person board. "I am an arts-and-letters guy."

Gates' interest in ethnic diversity is not a surprise, given that he is the author of 12 books on African-American issues and experiences. Those include "Colored People: A Memoir," which traces his childhood in West Virginia during the 1950s and 1960s; "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Black Man," and "Figures in Black: Words, Signs and the 'Racial' Self."

Gates, who is chair of the Department of African and African-American Studies at Harvard University, has served on the Pulitzer Board since 1997. He has one year left on his third, three-year term. He replaces outgoing board chairman Andrew Barnes, chairman of the The Poynter Institute, who will step down from the board this year.

After Barnes steps down, the board will have 18 members, 16 of whom are eligible to vote on prizes. Pulitzer Administrator Sig Gissler said a new member to replace Barnes will likely be chosen when the board next meets in November. "I think the board is interested in being a diverse body," Gissler said when asked about Gates' push for an Hispanic member. "I am not going to speak for the board, but I think they are interested in being diverse."

Among the 19 members currently on the board, three are black, four are women, and the remaining 12 are white men. Gissler confirmed that no Hispanic had ever served on the board.

"I would hope that there would be an Hispanic person elected to the board soon, in the very near future," Gates said. " I think that is a concern shared by members of the board."

When asked about other changes he would like, Gates said he believed the current procedures were working well. He declined to advocate releasing the list of Pulitzer finalists prior to the announcement of winners.

The leaking of finalists in recent years has sparked some debate among journalists as to whether they should be revealed after the juries choose the top three contenders in each category. Pulitzer rules continue to bar such information from being distributed before the winners are revealed, but the list continues to be leaked each year.

"I would advocate the continuation of secrecy because it is so painful for people when they lose," Gates said. "I think it is agonizing for people." But, he had no solution for how the leaks could be curtailed. "What can you do?" he said. "You can try to encourage secrecy, but all you can do is ask."


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