OVERVIEW: Wisconsin Pulitzer Prizes Centennial Campfires Activities

Presented by:
Wisconsin Humanities Council
Current Initiative: Centennial Campfires National Partner: The Pulitzer Prizes Local Partner: Nonprofits, Public Radio Subject: Journalism, K-12 Education, Varies Audience: All, Educators, K-12, Youth/Teen

The Wisconsin Humanities Council campfires project entitled, Celebrating Excellence: One Hundred Years of Wisconsin Pulitzer Prize Winners, consisted of four program components: ShopTalk series where four Pulitzer Prize winners spoke at events across multiple Wisconsin communities; Wisconsin Life public radio essays featuring five special episodes featuring Wisconsin Pulitzer Prize-winning fiction writers, a conference, curriculum guide, and prize opportunity for Wisconsin high school students and educators created in collaboration with the Northeast Wisconsin Scholastic Press Association, and two Pulitzer-themed On issues (Excellence and Remembering) of the council’s magazine featuring Wisconsin Pulitzer Prize winners, including a lead essay by Pulitzer Prize winning journalist David Maraniss.


Four Pulitzer Prize winners from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel shared what it was like to report a great story in five different presentations that was made available to host organizations (primarily libraries). Throughout the year, these Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists gave 13 talks with more than 400 people attending as part of the council’s ShopTalk: Pulitzer Edition series. ShopTalk is an interactive discussion program that includes a 30 minute talk followed by questions and discussion from the audience. The presentation topics included:


In honor of the Pulitzer Centennial, the Wisconsin Life series on Wisconsin Public Radio included five special Pulitzer episodes in 2016 featuring Wisconsin fiction writers who won Pulitzers. These radio essays were aired statewide a total of 15 times and reached an estimated audience of 285,000. Wisconsin Life radio essays air on WPR on Wednesdays and Fridays at 6:35 and 8:35 am during “Morning Edition” and “Central Time.” In 2014, the Wisconsin Life multi-media project debuted on Wisconsin Public Television on Monday evenings. The five episodes included:

  • Portage’s Zona Gale, The First Woman to Win a Pulitzer for Drama: Gale won the Pulitzer for her novel Miss Lulu Bett and was “one of the few fiction writers of her time to write contemporary stories emphasizing local color and the customs of ordinary people.”
  • The Life and Legacy of 3-Time Pulitzer Winner, Thornton Wilder: Wilder’s breakthrough novel was The Bridge of San Luis Rey, which won him his first Pulitzer and which was also made into a movie. He then went on to win two more Pulitzers, both for Drama, Our Town (1938) and The Skin of Our Teeth (1943).
  • Writer Edna Ferber Got Her Start As Appleton Journalist: Best known for the movies made from her books, Ferber wrote novels So Big, which won a Pulitzer, and later Show Boat, Giant, Cimarron, and Ice Palace, making her the “most read American woman in the 1920s.”
  • Hamlin Garland, Wisconsin’s Son of the Middle Border: Garland’s first success came from a collection of short stories called, Main-Traveled Roads in 1891. Writing many novels, short stories, and essays, he also published an autobiography, A Son of the Middle Border and its sequel, Daughter of the Middle Border, which won a 1922 Pulitzer Prize.
  • Frederick Jackson Turner and the History of the American West: Turner’s ideas of the American West were “both admired and maligned,” explains Wisconsin Life adding that although Turner wasn’t the first to “call attention to the frontier, he was the first to say outright that the frontier explained America.” Turner argued sectionalism was more important than states in shaping American history, an idea he turned into The Significance of Sections in American History, a book that won him a Pulitzer in 1933.


In collaboration with the Northeast Wisconsin Scholastic Press Association (NEWSPA), the council hosted three sessions at the 2016 NEWSPA conference in Oshkosh, which highlighted the Pulitzer Prizes centennial. The conference’s keynote was 2010 Pulitzer Prize winner Raquel Rutledge.  At the conference, a high school curriculum guide on Pulitzer and a prize opportunity was announced and shared with a presentation by UW-Oshkosh Journalism Professor Miles Maguire on how to use it. According to the council, approximately 325 high school students attended with advisers from 21 schools in northeast Wisconsin.


The Wisconsin Humanities Councils runs a periodic series of essays and ideas focused on a particular theme in their On magazine. According to the council’s website, On subscribers find regular features as well as special articles written by humanists, project directors, program participants, and other staff members. During the Pulitzer Prizes Campfires initiative in 2016, the council featured two themed issues: Remembering and Excellence, which featured a lead essay on the honor of being a Pulitzer Prize winner by David Maraniss, associate editor of The Washington Post who got his start as a journalist in Madison. In the On: Remembering issue, Wisconsin Public Radio’s Wisconsin Life producer, Erika Janik, discussed the Pulitzer Prize winners featured on her radio program. Additionally, On: Excellence featured photos from Pulitzer Prize winner Gary Porter. Both On magazines were mailed to more than 20,000 people and organizations throughout Wisconsin, 400 copies were distributed at the NEWSPA conference to students and educators, and both continue to be available on the council’s website.


  • Wisconsin Public Radio
  • Northeast Wisconsin Scholastic Press Association (NEWSPA)


  • Kathleen Gallagher, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel team, Explanatory Reporting (2011)
  • Mark Johnson, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel team, Explanatory Reporting (2011)
  • Alison Sherwood, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel team, Explanatory Reporting (2011)
  • Gary Porter, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel team, Explanatory Reporting (2011)
  • David Maraniss, Washington Post, National Reporting (1993)


  • Oshkosh, WI
  • Milwaukee, WI

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