Deserved Prize Not Presented in the Hotel, California

This is the 24th in a series of articles about winners of the NSNC’s annual Ernie Pyle Lifetime Achievement Award.
By Dave Astor
NSNC Archivist
Leonard Pitts Jr.

Leonard Pitts Jr.

Three great writing names of the past and present came together last year when Leonard Pitts Jr. received the 2016 Ernie Pyle Lifetime Achievement Award at the Will Rogers Ranch outside Los Angeles.

It was a major highlight of a NSNC conference held mostly in L.A. — near where Pitts was born (in 1957) and raised. Plus he attended the University of Southern California, where the English major graduated at age…19!
Several months before the 2016 conference, soon after Pitts learned he would receive the Pyle prize, he told me: “Lifetime achievement award? Damn, I must be older than I thought I was!”
The 2004 Pulitzer Prize winner for commentary followed that quip by adding 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.”
The Pyle prize wasn’t the first NSNC honor for the multi-award-winning Miami Herald writer. Pitts became our organization’s first Columnist of the Year 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.
Appropriately, Pitts was presented that NSNC honor in…Pittsburgh.
The Maryland resident covers a wide range of topics — including politics, race, and culture — in his widely syndicated column. He has also authored novels and nonfiction books, and been a radio producer, college professor, and frequent speaker.
Pitts spent 18 years writing about pop music before becoming an opinion columnist. He recalled deciding to leave that branch of journalism after nearly being trampled by fans surging to the stage during a U2 concert in 1993.

Even before that, Pitts was tiring of the music beat. “I spent nearly two decades interviewing Rod Stewart in his hotel suite and asking Mariah Carey to please tell me about her latest tour,” he said — and realized he no longer cared that much.

But Pitts cared a lot about the Pyle honor.
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Dave Astor writes the weekly “Montclairvoyant” topical-humor column for Baristanet.com, blogs weekly at DaveAstorOnLiterature.com, and is the author of the 2017 book “Fascinating Facts About Famous Fiction Authors and the Greatest Novels of All Time: The Book Lover’s Guide to Literary Trivia.

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