Why the Pulitzer Prizes Are Expanding Eligibility to Non-U.S. Citizens

The prestigious awards will soon be open to permanent residents and those who call the U.S. their “longtime primary home”

Pulitzer chairs
Chairs sit ready for the attendees of the ceremony recognizing 2020 and 2021 Pulitzer Prize winners. Jose Lopez / The Pulitzer Prizes

When Javier Zamora learned that his memoir, Solito, wouldn’t be eligible for certain literary awards because he isn’t a United States citizen, the writer was disheartened.

“The Pulitzer Prizes, arguably the highest profile, most important literary, artistic and journalist prizes in the U.S., remain closed to writers like myself—someone who has lived in this country since I was a child and who writes about the quintessential American topic, coming to America,” he wrote in the Los Angeles Times in July.

Last week, the Pulitzer Prize Board announced it will no longer exclude candidates like Zamora. Beginning with the 2025 awards cycle, authors and musicians will be eligible to submit to the books, drama and music categories if they are citizens, permanent residents or “those who have made the U.S. their longtime primary home,” according to a statement.

The updated eligibility requirements are meant to emphasize “the American nature of the work rather than the individual,” Marjorie Miller, the administrator for the prizes, tells the New York Times’ Alexandra Alter. “You can be American and write a book or play or a piece of music that is American without being a U.S. citizen.”

Miller also notes that the new rules don’t include firm definitions of long-term and permanent residency. “I think it’s defined by the identity of the writer: Do you consider the U.S. your permanent home, and is this a work that in some regard would be considered American?” she says.

The change follows Zamora’s July op-ed and last month’s open letter signed by a large group of authors calling on the Pulitzers to recognize literature by non-citizens.

Ingrid Rojas Contreras, a Pulitzer finalist this year for her memoir, The Man Who Could Move Clouds, and writer of the open letter, tells the Guardian’s Adrian Horton that the move is “long overdue.”

“The Pulitzer[s] changing their citizenship requirements matters on so many levels—to the writers whose work can now be considered for this esteemed prize, to us lovers of literature and to the future of American letters,” she adds. “Migrant literature is American literature.”

The Pulitzers are following in the footsteps of organizations like the Academy of American Poets and the Poetry Foundation, which have opened their awards to immigrants with temporary legal status, as well as the National Book Award and the PEN/Faulkner Awards, which now consider non-citizens for their prizes, reports the New York Times.

One major driver behind these changes is Undocupoets, a group co-founded by three poets—Zamora, Christopher Soto and Marcelo Hernandez Castillo—in 2015 to protest poetry contests that enforce rules based on candidates’ immigration status.

“The announcement is exciting because it’s the unraveling of an oppressive system that has been used to keep undocumented people out of social and economic opportunities in the U.S.,” Soto tells the L.A. Times’ Chelsea Hylton.

Previously, the Pulitzer’s history category was open to authors of any nationality who published books on U.S. history. “For the sake of consistency, however, history entries now also must conform to the new rules and must be written by U.S. authors,” writes the board. The journalism awards will continue to accept entries from journalists of any nationality as long as their work is published by media based in the U.S.

Zamora says he is glad to see the change and hopes more organizations will follow suit.

“I’m so happy that the Pulitzer committee could finally imagine one of their winners being an undocumented or previously undocumented writer. It’s taken too long,” Zamora tells the Guardian. “This decision is of utmost importance because it tells future writers that there is nothing stopping them from believing that they can be part of the ‘American’ canon.”

Get the latest stories in your inbox every weekday.