The writerly world is all atwitter over the 2012 Pulitzer Prize winners announced yesterday as web only media outlets like The Huffington Post and Politico won awards, and Seattle’s own Eli Sanders won for his heart breaking piece on the South Park murder trial in The Stranger. And, Seattle was also honored with a win for The Seattle Times for their riveting series, “Methadone and the Politics of Pain”. Congrats to ALL the winners, but especially the Seattle writers: Job well done!
It was a surprising year for the 95 year old award. No award for Fiction was granted, and for the first time, non-traditional media outlets won awards in a competition that usually only honors Big Old Media Outlets like the New York Times and the Washington Post. In the official announcement for Mr. Sanders’ award for Best Feature Writing, The Stranger was carefully noted as “a Seattle (Wash.) weekly”. The huge surge in traffic yesterday to The Stranger’s website, resulted in server overload and the site being out of commission for much of the day.
Mr. Sander’s award winning article, “The Bravest Woman in Seattle” recounts the emotionally devastating testimony of Jennifer Hopper, during the trial of Isaiah Kalebu the man accused of breaking into the South Park home of Ms Hopper and her partner Teresa Butz on July 19, 2009 and the subsequent rape and assault of the two women which resulted in the death of Ms Butz. Kalebu was ultimately convicted. Ms Hopper was not identified in the original article; she subsequently “came out” when she wrote her own piece for The Stranger, “I Would Like You To Know My Name” in August of 2011. The crime and trial came to the attention of the national media not only for the horrific specifics of the crime, but also for its celebrity connection: Ms Butz was the sister of Tony Award winning actor Norbert Leo Butz, best known for his roles in “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” and the Seattle created musical, “Catch Me If You Can” which opened at the 5th Avenue Theatre a week after Ms Butz’s death. The brutal attack also sent shock waves through the lesbian community as female couples questioned their own safety living in their own homes.
Both Eli’s original piece and Ms Hopper’s account are painful and emotionally difficult to read but both are beautifully written…they will stay with you for a long time. You should definitely read both works. And, while it’s difficult to offer “hearty congrats!” when the work in question deals with something so horrible, the raw emotional honesty of Eli’s work deserves the praise while we offer condolences to Jennifer Hopper and the family of Teresa Butz.