The Pulitzer Prize winners with ties to North Dakota
"Did You Know That" columnist Curt Eriksmoen explains how several North Dakotans and people with North Dakota ties, including Bob Dylan, won Pulitzer Prizes.
Last week, I wrote about the three North Dakota newspapers whose staff won Pulitzer Prizes for covering difficult situations that caused considerable hardships to their communities. The Bismarck Tribune won the award in 1933 for its encouraging articles and editorials concerning the Dust Bowl that threatened the livelihood of farmers in the area. The staff of the Fargo Forum was awarded the Pulitzer in 1958, for its coverage of the disastrous tornado that swept through the city and surrounding area in 1957. The Grand Forks Herald earned the Pulitzer in 1998 for its articles and photographs about the devastating flood that swept through the area in 1997.
This week, I will focus on people with North Dakota ties who have individually been awarded the Pulitzer Prize. The first Pulitzer winner by a person who had lived in North Dakota was Maxwell Anderson. He was awarded the prize in “Drama” in 1933 for his play "Both Your Houses." When he was 18, Anderson and his parents moved to Jamestown for his senior year in high school. From 1908 to 1911 Anderson attended the University of North Dakota, earning a B.A. in English. While at UND he worked at the night copy desk for the Grand Forks Herald and, following graduation, became high school principal at Minnewaukan.
After receiving his M.A. at Stanford University in 1914, Anderson became chairman of the English department at Whittier College in California. He later served on the staff of the San Francisco Evening Bulletin, the San Francisco Chronicle and the New York World before becoming a noted playwright. During his writing career, Anderson wrote over 40 plays, numerous screenplays for movies and television, countless poems and the lyrics to a number of songs.
Lee Hills was the 1956 Pulitzer Prize Winner in “Local Reporting — Edition time” for his “aggressive, resourceful and comprehensive front-page reporting about the United Automobile Workers’ negotiations with Ford and General Motors for a guaranteed annual wage.” Hills was the editor of the Detroit Free Press at the time and it was the second Pulitzer Prize he was able to accumulate. In 1951, the Miami Herald was awarded the Pulitzer in Public Service for its crime reporting the previous year. Hills “directed his reporters to dig up facts about the mob bosses living in the area.”
Hills was born on a farm near Granville in McHenry County. While young, his family moved to Price, Utah, and at the age of 14, he secured employment with the News Advocate in Price. He worked his way up to editor at the age of 20. After receiving his law degree from the University of Oklahoma in 1934, Hills edited the Oklahoma City News, the Memphis Press-Scimitar, the Cleveland Press, the Miami Herald and the Detroit Free Press.
In 1967, he became president of Knight Newspapers and, in 1974, merged it with Ridder Publications, becoming CEO of Knight-Ridder, the company with “the largest combined circulation in the country.”
In 1965, Mel Ruder won the Pulitzer Prize in “Local General or Spot News Reporting,” for his work at the Hungry Horse News, a weekly newspaper he owned and edited in Columbia Falls, Mont. He received the award “for his daring and resourceful coverage of a disastrous flood that threatened his community, an individual effort in the finest tradition of spot news reporting.”
Ruder was born in Manning in Dunn County, grew up in Bismarck and attended UND, where he received his B.A. in journalism in 1937. After obtaining his M.A. in sociology from Northwestern University in 1942, Ruder enlisted in the Navy during World War II. After the war, Ruder fell in love with Glacier National Park and hoped to get hired by the Whitefish Pilot newspaper. When that effort failed, he decided to start his own paper to serve the “thousands of workers who would be hired to work on the upcoming Hungry Horse Dam project.” Ruder later turned the Hungry Horse News into a daily and remained with the paper until his retirement in 1978.
Richard Aregood won the 1985 Pulitzer Prize in “Editorial Writing” for his “distinguished writing, the test of excellence being clearness of style, moral purpose, sound reasoning and power to influence public opinion in what the writer conceives to be the right direction, due account being taken of the whole volume of the editorial writer’s work.” Aregood won the prize for his editorials for the Philadelphia Daily News, a paper located in the city of his birth. He is the only one in this group to move to North Dakota after winning the Pulitzer Prize.
Aregood graduated from Rutgers University in 1965 with a B.A. in English and went to work at the Daily News, first as a police reporter, and later as deputy sports editor, rock critic, rewriteman, reporter and assistant managing editor. In 1975, Aregood became the editorial page editor. In 1995, he left the Daily News to become editorial page editor for the Star-Ledger in Newark, N.J., for 10 years before becoming a visiting professor at Rutgers, the University of South Florida, and from 2009 to 2014 at UND.
In 1989, James McPherson won the Pulitzer Prize in “History” for his book "Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era." He is considered “the dean of American historians of the Civil War era.” McPherson was born in Valley City and lived in Parshall and Washburn before moving to Minnesota in 1943 when he was 7 years old. He received his B.A. from Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, Minn., and his Ph.D. at Johns Hopkins University. McPherson taught U.S. history at Princeton University for 42 years, authored more than a dozen books on the Civil War era, received numerous awards, championed many causes and frequently appeared on television to discuss issues or events concerning the Civil War.
In 2008, Bob Dylan received the Pulitzer Prize for “Special Citations & Awards” for “his profound impact on popular music and American culture, marked by lyrical compositions of extraordinary poetic power.” Robert Zimmerman grew up in Duluth and Hibbing, Minn., and after graduating from high school in 1959, moved to Fargo to establish his professional music career as Elston Gunnn. In Fargo, he played the piano for a couple of different groups, one fronted by Bobby Vee, before enrolling at the University of Minnesota. After dropping out of college, he relocated to New York City, changed his name to Bob Dylan and became one of the greatest singer-songwriters of American folk music.
In 2021, Louise Erdrich won the Pulitzer Prize in “Fiction” for her novel "The Night Watchman." In describing the book, the Pulitzer committee called it, “A majestic, polyphonic novel about a community’s efforts to halt the proposed displacement and elimination of several Native American tribes in the 1950s, rendered with dexterity and imagination.” Erdrich, who is an enrolled member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians, was raised in Wahpeton, where her parents taught at a Native American boarding school. She has written 28 books which include fiction, nonfiction, poetry and children’s books, and her book "The Plague of Doves" was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2009. Erdrich has received numerous honors and awards, including the Theodore Roosevelt Rough Rider Award in 2013.
“Did You Know That” is written by Curt Eriksmoen and edited by Jan Eriksmoen of Fargo. Send your comments, corrections, or suggestions for columns to the Eriksmoens at firstname.lastname@example.org.