By Dave Astor
National Society of Newspaper Columnists
Leonard Pitts Jr. has been chosen to receive the National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ 2016 Ernie Pyle Lifetime Achievement Award.
The widely syndicated columnist will be presented the honor on June 25 at the NSNC’s annual conference in Los Angeles — a fitting locale given that Pitts was born, raised and attended college in Southern California.
“Lifetime achievement award? Damn, I must be older than I thought I was,” quipped Pitts, 58, when reached for this story.
The 2004 Pulitzer Prize winner for commentary added seriously: “There is something special about being celebrated by people who do the same thing you do. I think they will always be the audience that’s toughest to fool or to impress.
“So while I would be ecstatic to receive an award like this under any circumstances, it is particularly sweet coming from my professional peers in the fraternity/sorority of columnists. I am profoundly honored.”
This is not the first NSNC honor for the multiaward-winning Pitts. The Maryland-based Miami Herald writer received our organization’s first Columnist of the Year prize in 2002 — partly in recognition of a powerful piece he wrote immediately after 9/11. The “We’ll Go Forward From This Moment” column was in the form of a strong, irate letter to the attackers — and generated about 30,000 emails.
Pitts covers a wide range of topics — including politics, race and culture — in his column. The former music writer has also authored fiction and nonfiction books, and been a radio producer and college professor.
“It seems unfair that so much talent should be concentrated in one person, but it is with Leonard Pitts,” said NSNC President Jerry Zezima. “He’s both a colleague and a role model. He’s also a good guy. It’s no wonder he was the unanimous choice as winner of the 2016 Ernie Pyle Lifetime Achievement Award. This means that, as president of the NSNC, I get to buy him a beer in the hospitality suite. I can’t wait.”
Pulitzer-winning columnist and 2014 NSNC conference speaker Connie Schultz said in a quote posted on Pitts’ website: “Leonard Pitts refuses to be predictable or to rest on his considerable laurels. He is funny when you think there’s not a smidgen of humor to be found, enraged at the very moment we thought we no longer cared, and he shakes us up just when we’re so certain we have it all figured out.
“In other words, he makes us better for having read him. What a gift. In sparse, often electric prose, Pitts challenges us to be bigger than we thought possible, and then shows us how to get there.”
The Ernie Pyle Lifetime Achievement Award is named for the syndicated travel columnist and Pulitzer Prize-winning World War II correspondent who was killed while covering an attack on a Pacific island in 1945. Past award winners include Art Buchwald, Clarence Page, Ellen Goodman, Dave Barry, Gene Weingarten and Judith Martin.
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Dave Astor writes the “Montclairvoyant” humor column for The Montclair (N.J.) Times, blogs at DaveAstorOnLiterature.com, and is the author of the memoir Comic (and Column) Confessional.