Four former Metro Detroiters on Monday received Pulitzer Prizes for books in history and poetry, and for public service and feature photography in journalism.
Heather Ann Thompson, a University of Michigan history professor, won the Pulitzer for her book “Blood in the Water: The Attica Prison Uprising of 1971 and Its Legacy” — which explores the history of the prison riot in New York that involved 1,300 prisoners and led to the deaths of 39 men.
Pulitzer judges called Thompson’s work a “searing and indelible account of one of the most important civil rights stories of the last century.”
“Drawing from more than a decade of extensive research, historian Heather Ann Thompson sheds new light on every aspect of the uprising and its legacy, giving voice to all those who took part in this 45-year fight for justice: prisoners, former hostages, families of the victims, lawyers and judges, and state officials and members of law enforcement,” said the judges.
Tyehimba Jess, an associate professor of English at the College of Staten Island, won for his second book of poetry, “Olio” — which presents the story behind America’s blues, work songs and church hymns.
Pulitzer judges said Jess’ poetry tells the stories “with ambitious manipulations of poetic forms.”
“Part fact, part fiction, Jess’s much anticipated second book weaves sonnet, song, and narrative to examine the lives of mostly unrecorded African-American performers directly before and after the Civil War up to World War I,” the judges said. “ ‘Olio’ is an effort to understand how they met, resisted, complicated, co-opted, and sometimes defeated attempts to minstrelize them.”
Thompson, a 1981 Cass Tech graduate, grew up in Rosedale Park. “It’s an attempt to remind us all why prisons need the light to shine on them,” Thompson said. “I am just so grateful that people whose stories normally don’t get told are being read.”
For the Pulitzer Prizes in journalism, Sarah Ryley won for her work with the New York Daily News and ProPublica for uncovering “widespread abuse of eviction rules by the police to oust hundreds of people, most of them poor minorities.”
In addition, E. Jason Wambsgans of the Chicago Tribune won in feature photography. The judges said Wambsgans, a Metro Detroit native and Central Michigan University alum, made photos that were “a superb portrayal of a 10-year-old boy and his mother striving to put the boy’s life back together after he survived a shooting in Chicago.”
Jake May of the Flint Journal was a finalist “for striking, wonderfully conceived photographs from Flint’s contaminated-water crisis that told a challenging story in human terms.”
The committee also named Terry Parris Jr., formerly of WDET and now ProPubica’s engagement editor, a finalist for work on a team that was “a rigorous examination that used data journalism and lucid writing to make tangible the abstract world of algorithms and how they shape our lives in realms as disparate as criminal justice, online shopping and social media.”