How Graywolf and MN Opera made Pulitzer-prize winning work happen

Earlier today my editor and I were debating the validity of saying that either Graywolf Press or the Minnesota Opera “won” a Pulitzer Prize today.

The fact is that composer Kevin Puts created the music for the opera “Silent Night” which won the Pulitzer for music.

And writer Tracy K. Smith wrote the words that won the Pulitzer for poetry.

But the fact is that neither of those award-winning works would have come into being without these two Minnesota institutions.

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A battle scene from the Minnesota Opera production “Silent Night.”

(Minnesota Opera/Michal Daniel)

The seeds of “Silent Night” were sown five years ago when Minnesota Opera Artistic Director Dale Johnson saw the French movie “Joyeux Noel.

I knew in my heart that this was going to be a great opera, or this could be a great opera, simply because of the story. I saw all these moments in the story that could be terrific orchestral pieces rather than sung pieces. I wanted somebody who could bring the drama through the music.

When I heard Kevin Puts’ music – it was either his second or third symphony – I was sitting in my car and I thought “this is the guy.”

Puts had never written an opera before, but Johnson saw his potential, and the Minnesota Opera commissioned him to compose “Silent Night.” Now, Puts has a Pulitzer Prize to add to his resume.

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Graywolf Press published Tracy K. Smith’s Pulitzer Prize-winning collection of poetry

Graywolf Press has worked with its share of Pulitzer Prize-winning authors, but today is the first time the publishing house had its name on the spine of the prize-winning book. And for editor Jeffrey Shotts, it’s a real source of pride.

We’ve published all three of [Tracy Smiths'] poetry collections, and so it’s wonderful over a long term – ten, twelves years – to see a poet like this widen her aperture to such an extent that it’s worthy of the Pulitzer prize – it’s incredibly exciting.

Shotts served as Smith’s editor on all three poetry collections. He says the Pulitzer will increase books sales for Smith, and bring attention to Graywolf’s other work. In the long term, he hopes it will also raise awareness of the work of non-profit publishing houses like Graywolf who are committed to shepherding great works into being.

So while Graywolf and Minnesota Opera aren’t the first names to appear on the Pulitzer Prize listing, these prize-winning works wouldn’t have happened without them.

  • Nancy Gertner

    Congratulations! I attended “Silent Night” in November 2011 and it was a powerful story. Beautiful music and great set design.