Washington Post’s Philip Kennicott wins Pulitzer Prize for criticism

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Jonathan Yardley won a Pulitzer Prize while at The Post. He won while working at the Washington Star. This version has been updated.

April 15, 2013

Washington Post critic Philip Kennicott, who has written elegantly and incisively about art and architecture for the paper’s Style section, was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for criticism on Monday.

The New York Times was the big winner in the journalism prizes announced Monday afternoon in New York by Columbia University, which administers the awards. The Times won Pulitzers in four categories: Investigative reporting (for exposing a Wal-Mart bribery scheme in Mexico); international reporting (for stories about the wealth amassed by relatives of China’s Communist Party leaders); explanatory journalism (for articles about Chinese factories that make electronic products for Apple and other companies); and feature writing (for a lengthy article about a deadly avalanche in the Cascade Mountains).

Kennicott, 47, won the award — considered journalism’s highest honor — for articles assessing a photographic exhibit at the Corcoran Gallery, an architect’s work at the National Building Museum and an essay on graphic and violent photographic images, among others. Post journalists were finalists in four other categories, including feature writing, national reporting, public service and editorial writing.

A finalist for the criticism prize last year, Kennicott joined The Post in 1999 and serves as its chief art critic. He was also a finalist in editorial writing in 2000 for a series he wrote for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch about Missouri’s proposed concealed-carry firearms law.

He said that winning the Pulitzer this year “was a complete surprise. Sometimes you have an inkling about these things, but I absolutely had no clue I had made the final rung this time.”

On Monday, Philip Kennicott won the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for criticism. He sits down to talk about critiquing art and architecture. (The Fold/The Washington Post)

He added, “It makes me especially happy to win at a time when arts criticism is not doing well” because of cutbacks at newspapers across the country.

Kennicott’s entry included several pieces published in the Style section last year. One was a review in June of an exhibit of creations by the architect Kevin Roche at the National Building Museum.

Assessing Roche’s work, Kennicott wrote, “In the end, Roche’s reputation will rise or fall depending on what becomes of the corporate world he served. If the end of corporate America is a dystopian hell of environmental catastrophe, vast economic inequity and social instability, the corporate architects of our age will not be remembered fondly. But if our age yields to a better one, just as the tyrannies and kleptocracies of past centuries sometimes yielded (perhaps temporarily) to more enlightened, democratic societies, then Roche’s work might have the charm of baroque palaces, Egyptian pyramids and Parisian avenues.”

“He is always wholly original,” said Arts Editor Christine Ledbetter.

Kennicott is the 10th Style critic to win a Pulitzer. The others include four current writers: dance critic Sarah Kaufman, who won in 2010, fashion critic Robin Givhan (2006), book critic Michael Dirda (1993) and book columnist Jonathan Yardley, who won in 1981 before joining the Post. Former Style critics Henry Allen (photography criticism), Tim Page (classical music), Tom Shales (television), Stephen Hunter (film) and the late Alan M. Kriegsman (dance) have also won.

The award to the New York Times’s David Barstow, who wrote the Wal-Mart stories, was his third Pulitzer in nine years.

The Star Tribune in Minneapolis was the only other multiple Pulitzer winner. Three of its staff writers were recognized in the local-reporting category for articles on infant deaths at poorly regulated day-care homes. The newspaper’s Steve Sack won the award for editorial cartoons.

The Washington Post’s Pulitzer Prize winner and finalists.

Among this year’s other winners were the Tampa Bay Times for editorial writing and InsideClimate News for national reporting for its examination of a 2010 oil spill in the Kalamazoo River in Michigan. InsideClimate News, based in New York, is a nonprofit Web-only publication supported by foundation grants. It was founded in 2007 and has a full-time editorial staff of seven.

The public service award went to the Sun Sentinel of Fort Lauderdale for what the Pulitzer judges called “a well-documented investigation of off-duty police officers who recklessly speed and endanger the lives of citizens, leading to disciplinary action and other steps to curtail a deadly hazard.”

The Denver Post won in the local-reporting category for its coverage of the Aurora movie theater shooting last summer. The feature photography award went to Javier Manzano, a freelancer whose work has appeared in The Post. Manzano won for a photo, distributed by Agence France-Presse, of two Syrian rebel soldiers guarding their position as light streams through bullet holes in a wall.

Post journalists who were Pulitzer finalists this year included Eli Saslow (nominated in the feature writing category for a story about the struggles and optimism of a Virginia pool salesman); Spencer Hsu (public service, for reports about forensic errors that led to wrongful convictions); Jackson Diehl (editorial writing); and a team of reporters (Karen DeYoung, Greg Miller, Craig Whitlock and Julie Tate) from The Post’s national staff, who were recognized for a series about the U.S. government’s drone-warfare strategy.

Paul Farhi is The Washington Post's media reporter.
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