Reading through this year’s Pulitzer Prize winners, everyone should take note of what is bound to be a trend: the extraordinary showing of women taking home the craft’s highest honors.
This, after the recent brouhaha caused by author Gay Talese at a Boston University conference when he ambiguously said that female writers, past and possibly present, “do not feel comfortable dealing with strangers.”
Close to home, Jessica Rinaldi won for feature photography, carrying on a Boston Globe tradition of spectacular visual imagery. She is the first female Globe photographer to snag a Pulitzer. I knew Jessica would win; I just didn’t know for which portfolio.
Turns out Pulitzer jurors had a tough time, too. They awarded her a Pulitzer for capturing Strider Wolf, a little boy living in poverty in Maine, and made her a finalist in the same category for photos of an East Boston heroin addict.
Farah Stockman, a former Globe columnist who is now a staffer at The New York Times, won for a collection of Globe columns on the legacy of busing in Boston. Stockman’s insights into race and education were particularly timely, some four decades later, in our age of Black Lives Matter.
The women of the Globe editorial page have been on a roll. Katie Kingsbury, the Ideas editor, edited Stockman’s series; Kingsbury herself won a Pulitzer last year for editorial writing for a series on inequities in the restaurant industry. And in 2013, columnist Juliette Kayyem (later a Democratic gubernatorial candidate) was a finalist for commentary.
This year, Emily Nussbaum, The New Yorker’s television critic, won for criticism with what the Pulitzer committee described as “reviews written with an affection that never blunts the shrewdness of her analysis or the easy authority of her writing.”
That makes two years in a row in which a female TV critic reigned supreme; Mary McNamara of the Los Angeles Times won for criticism in 2015.
Then there is the longtime foreign correspondent Alissa Rubin, who was honored for international reporting for a series about the struggle to improve women’s lives in Afghanistan. Rubin, according to the Times, has spent much of her career covering Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Balkans. She has been the Times’s bureau chief in Baghdad and later Kabul.
I’ve never met Rubin, but she strikes me as one tough chick. She survived a helicopter crash in 2014 in Kurdistan, and from her hospital bed, she dictated the following account:
“I heard myself groan like everybody else. At that moment, it just hurt so much. But then I thought, that’s good. At least I’m alive.
“I bet a lot of them are not. How is the pilot? Did he make it? He just wanted to help.”
The Pulitzer’s highest honor is the Public Service gold medal, and that went to an all-female team of reporters from the Associated Press. They risked their lives to tell the story of modern-day enslavement of workers in the seafood industry in Southeast Asia — fish and shrimp that ultimately found their way to supermarkets and restaurants in America.
It was a story that eluded many for decades until Esther Htusan, Margie Mason, Robin McDowell, and Martha Mendoza came along.
“McDowell and Htusan took a small wooden boat out to a trawler where fishermen pleaded for help, mere feet from their captain,” wrote AP executive editor Kathleen Carroll in her nomination letter to the Pulitzer judges. “On the island, the reporters logged the names of ships loaded with slave-caught seafood, then used satellite data to track them. One ship went to a Thai seaport, and so did our reporters. For four days, they hid in the back of a small truck, scrunched down behind tinted windows because the area was patrolled by gunmen for the fish mafia.”
The AP expose led to freedom for more than 2,000 slaves, the arrests of a dozen people, and legislation in Congress to create greater transparency from food suppliers.
With women dominating journalism schools — one study pegs the number at about 70 percent of enrollment — the next generation of Lois Lanes should know that the current generation is doing all they can to shatter paper ceilings.
Still, there is more work to be done. Men are over-represented in daily newspaper newsrooms and on editorial boards of big papers, with women reporting only 37 percent of stories, according to a 2015 survey by the nonprofit Women’s Media Center. The numbers are a little better on the Internet, with women writing 42 percent of the news.
As the Pulitzers mark their centennial year, female journalists have come a long way. This year’s class of winners let that be known loud and clear.
If anything, no one — not even for a moment — will ever believe that women feel uncomfortable about covering anything.