In a career spanning more than 35 years, Leonard Pitts, Jr. has been a columnist, a college professor, a radio producer and a lecturer. But if you ask him to define himself, he will invariably choose one word. He is a writer, period, author of one of the most popular newspaper columns in the country and of a series of critically-acclaimed books, including his latest, a novel called Freeman. And his lifelong devotion to the art and craft of words has yielded stellar results, chief among them the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for commentary.
But that is only the capstone of a career filled with prizes for literary excellence. In 1997, Pitts took first place for commentary in division four (newspapers with a circulation of over 300,000) in the American Association of Sunday and Feature Editors' Ninth Annual Writing Awards competition. He is a three-time recipient of the National Association of Black Journalists’ Award of Excellence, and was chosen NABJ’s 2008 Journalist of the Year. Pitts is a five-time recipient of the Atlantic City Press Club’s National Headliners Award and a seven-time recipient of the Society of Professional Journalists’ Green Eyeshade Award.
In 2001, he received the American Society of Newspaper Editors prestigious ASNE Award for Commentary Writing and was named Feature of the Year - Columnist by Editor and Publisher magazine. In 2002, the National Society of Newspaper Columnists awarded Pitts its inaugural Columnist of the Year award. In 2002 and in 2009, GLAAD Media awarded Pitts the Outstanding Newspaper Columnist award. In 2008, he received an honorary doctorate in humane letters from Old Dominion University.
Pitts’ work has made him an in-demand lecturer. He maintains a rigorous speaking schedule that has taken him to colleges, civic groups and professional associations all over the country. He has also been invited to teach at a number of prestigious institutions of higher learning, including Hampton University, Ohio University, the University of Maryland and Virginia Commonwealth University. In the fall of 2011, he was a visiting professor at Princeton University, teaching a course in writing about race. In 2013, he taught at George Washington University.
Twice each week, millions of newspaper readers around the country seek out his rich and uncommonly resonant voice. In a word, he connects with them. Nowhere was this demonstrated more forcefully than in the response to his initial column on the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. Pitts' column, "We'll Go Forward From This Moment," an angry and defiant open letter to the terrorists, circulated the globe via the Internet. It generated upwards of 30,000 emails, and has since been set to music, reprinted in poster form, read on television by Regis Philbin and quoted by Congressman Richard Gephardt as part of the Democratic Party's weekly radio address.
His books have also been widely praised. Tavis Smiley called him “the most insightful and inspiring columnist of his generation” in writing about Pitts’ 2009 collection of columns, Forward From This Moment. Publisher’s Weekly described his 2009 first novel, Before I Forget, as a “rare, memorable debut.”
And the applause for Freeman has been even louder. Gwen Ifill of PBS called it “a story of love and redemption which challenges everything we thought we knew about how our nation dealt with its most stubborn stain.” The acclaimed author and journalist Herb Boyd called it “a beguiling, cinematic love story.” The Washington Post dubbed it "a uniquely American epic," Essence pronounced it worthy of a Pulitzer Prize, and Sybil Wilkes, who chairs “Sybil’s Book Club” on radio’s top-rated Tom Joyner Morning Show said simply, “I so love this story.”
Leonard Pitts was born and raised in Southern California. He was awarded a degree in English from the University of Southern California at the age of 19, having entered school at 15 on a special honors program. Since 1995, he has lived in Bowie, Maryland, a suburb of Washington, DC with his wife and family.