OVERVIEW: South Dakota Pulitzer Prizes Centennial Campfires Activities

Presented by:
South Dakota Humanities Council
Current Initiative: Centennial Campfires National Partner: The Pulitzer Prizes Local Partner: Colleges and Universities, Libraries, Nonprofits, Other, Public Radio, Public Television Subject: Art/Photography, History, Journalism, Performing Arts, Poetry, Varies Audience: All, Children and Families

In celebration of the Pulitzer Prizes Centennial, the South Dakota Humanities Council welcomed an “unprecedented” 13 Pulitzer Prize-winning authors in letters, journalism, and music to South Dakota. Prize winners attended the South Dakota Festival of Books in Brookings, SD in September 2016 and others appeared at stand-alone events on college campuses and cultural institutions around the state throughout the year. As a complement, the council also blogged 11 essays by guest scholars, educators, and journalists and garnered a three-episode television program on South Dakota Public Broadcasting entitled, “Up Close and Pulitzer.”


The South Dakota Humanities Council brought seven Pulitzer winners to the state in 2016 in stand-alone events at the SD’s colleges and universities, and cultural institutions, including:

  • Elizabeth Fenn (2015 Pulitzer, History) to an anthropology class at Augustana University, as well as an afternoon reception at the Center for Western Studies and an evening public lecture where she provided background on the research that went into her Pulitzer Prize-winning book. More than 130 attendees came to the evening event.
  • Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin (2006 Pulitzer, Biography) discussed their work in writing American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer with several Black Hills State University undergraduate classes. Additionally, the two authors dined with faculty, administration, and the lecture committee, and gave a lecture examining Oppenheimer’s lead role in developing the atomic bomb and his moral concerns about the consequences of scientific process. This lecture drew a crowd of more than 200 people.
  • Robert Cohen (2015 Pulitzer, Breaking News Photography) toured the University of South Dakota’s Al Neuharth Media Center speaking to several classes. Cohen also met with the staff of the student newspaper and presented a public slideshow and discussion of his work. Later he participated in an interview as part of South Dakota Public Broadcasting’s “Up Close and Pulitzer” program.
  • Michael Chabon (2001 Pulitzer, Fiction) visited two Black Hills State University classrooms, attended a dinner hosted by the university’s president, and spoke to an audience of 115 on “Thanks, Teach: Remembering Four Writing Mentors.”
  • John Luther Adams (2014 Pulitzer, Music Composition) visited with several constituencies during his three-day workshop in Sioux Falls which culminated with a performance of his Prize-winning orchestral work Become Ocean by the South Dakota Symphony Orchestra. Not only did Adams lecture on composition at Augustana University, he also took part in a panel discussion at the Washington Pavilion, participated in a South Dakota Public Broadcasting video interview, and attended symphony rehearsals, working with orchestra musicians.
  • Jonathan Weiner (1995 Pulitzer, Nonfiction) spent a full day at the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology campus visiting two communications classes to discuss science writing with student majoring in various mining and engineering fields. Weiner also attended a dinner hosted by the President and gave a 60-minute public talk titled “In Darwin’s Footsteps: Witnessing the Origin of a New Species in the Galapagos.”


More than 10,000 people attended the 2016 Festival of Books, which highlighted six Pulitzer Prize-winning authors in a series of presentations:

  • Jane Smiley (1992 Pulitzer, Fiction) gave the 2016 Festival of Books keynote address, which consisted of an on-stage interview with Lori Walsh of South Dakota Public Broadcasting. Smiley’s talk drew 400 people.
  • Robert Olen Butler (1993 Pulitzer, Fiction) is a Vietnam veteran and Pulitzer winner for his book A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain. Bulter presented an individual talk about his most recent novel, Perfume River: Family Ties and the Legacy of War and teamed up with Ron Capps, founder of the Veterans Writing Project.
  • Shirley Christian (1981 Pulitzer, International Reporting) presented a session entitled, “When America Was Young: The French, the Indians, and the Fur Trade” at the festival, which followed two prior engagements across the state. The first was a visit to Presentation College to meet with journalism students and deliver a public lecture and the second was to speak with an Honors Media and Election class at South Dakota State University. Later, Christian participated in a video interview as part of South Dakota Public Broadcasting’s program, “Up Close and Pulitzer.”
  • Michael Dirda (1993 Pulitzer, Criticism) is an author and book columnist for The Washington Post who moderated a Pulitzer panel discussion, as well as participated in other sessions and a video interview.
  • Ted Kooser (2005 Pulitzer, Poetry) is a two-term former U.S. Poet Laureate and Pulitzer winner for his collection Delights and Shadows, who also has written books for children. He opened up his presence at the festival at a Young Readers One Book keynote event and went on to do a poetry reading. He, too, participated in a video interview for “Up Close and Pulitzer.”
  • J. Stiles (2016 and 2010 Pulitzers, History and Biography) presented a session entitled, “The Complexities and Contradictions of George Armstrong Custer” with historian Paul Andrew Hutton. Stiles also gave a video interview.


In addition to the main events of the SD Pulitzer Campfires, thirteen authors, scholars, educators, and journalists wrote 14 essays about the Pulitzer Prize winners who presented in South Dakota as a result of the Campfires initiative. At this writing, the posts have received more than 1,000 pageviews.

Between May and July 2016, a group of SDHC scholars presented a five-part series at the Brookings Public Library entitled, “The Role of Government in Americans’ Lives as Depicted in Pulitzer Prize-Winning Books,” which included the following talks:

  • Larry Rogers on Louis Menand’s The Metaphysical Club: A Story of Ideas in America
  • Bob Burns on Jack Rankove’s Original Meanings: Politics and Ideas in the Making of the Constitution
  • Nels Granholm on Willa Cather’s One of Ours
  • Mac Harris on Robert Penn Warren’s All the King’s Men
  • John Miller on Theodore H. White’s The Making of a President

In all, more than 100 people attended these talks. In September, three of the scholars: Drs. Rogers, Miller, and Burns, traveled to Pierre, SD for a panel discussion that opened with a brief history of the Pulitzer Prizes, while several other scholars offered Pulitzer-related programming through the council’s Speakers Bureau.


  • Augustana University
  • Black Hills State University
  • Brookings Public Library
  • Presentation College
  • South Dakota Magazine
  • South Dakota Public Broadcasting
  • South Dakota School of Mines and Technology
  • South Dakota State Historical Society
  • South Dakota State University
  • South Dakota Symphony Orchestra
  • University of South Dakota


  • Elizabeth Fenn, History (2015)
  • Kai Bird, Biography (2006)
  • Martin J. Sherwin, Biography (2006)
  • Robert Cohen, Breaking News Photography (2015)
  • Michael Chabon, Fiction (2001)
  • John Luther Adams, Music (2014)
  • Jonathan Weiner, Nonfiction (1995)
  • Jane Smiley, Fiction (1992)
  • Robert Olen Butler, Fiction (1993)
  • Shirley Christian, International Reporting (1981)
  • Michael Dirda, Criticism (1993)
  • Ted Kooser, Poetry (2005)
  • J. Stiles, Biography/History (2010/2016)


  • Brookings, SD
  • Sioux Falls, SD
  • Spearfish, SD
  • Vermillion, SD
  • Pierre, SD

Click the purple button below to view the Pulitzer Prizes Campfires initiative overview featuring all participating councils.