Volume XII, Number I, Spring 2016

"Remembering Pulitzer" by Zsuzsa Sütő

Zsuzsa Sütő is a PhD student at the University of Szeged. Her fields of research are postmodern and contemporary English literature and literary memory. Email:

Pulitzer József emlékezete – To the Memory of Joseph Pulitzer
András Csillag and Pál Halmágyi
Makó: Makói Múzeum és Kulturáért Alapítvány, 2015.
192 pp.
ISBN: 978-963-88426-7-1

Pulitzer József emlékezete or To the Memory of Joseph Pulitzer (2015) is a short bilingual volume in the Arad Csongrád Torontál County Booklets collection published in the town of Makó in Hungary in 2015. The book is a collaboration between András Csillag, a scholar famous for his research on the life of Joseph Pulitzer; Pál Halmágyi, co-editor and co-writer of the book; and Júlia Szarvasi, the translator, whose work on the volume makes it accessible to English-speaking readers as well as Hungarians. The book was published in these two languages because Pulitzer himself was bilingual: he was born in Hungary, but he moved to the United States as a teenager and made his world-famous journalistic career there. The life of the mighty newspaper mogul of the United States might provide inspiration to people from both countries, hence the need for publishing this account in both Hungarian and English at once.

The first half of the book is the Hungarian version of the text (pp. 5-96), while the second half is the English (pp. 129-180). In my opinion, this method of division is far better than providing the Hungarian and English versions in parallel on opposite pages throughout the book, as this gives the book fluidity and continuity without the two different languages distracting the readers in any way. The translation is generally very accurate and natural, and it covers the Hungarian part flawlessly.

The book is divided into four parts. It begins with an introduction, in which the writers summarize the biography of Joseph Pulitzer and draw attention to his Hungarian origins, as he was born in Makó on April 10, 1847 – hence the location of the publication. Pulitzer only immigrated to the United States at the age of seventeen in 1864, which means that he was brought up and educated in Hungary, and there is a strong connection between him and his hometown.

The title of the first chapter is “A Great American Newspaperman with Hungarian Ties,” and was written by András Csillag, a university lecturer from the Juhász Gyula Faculty of Education in Szeged, who teaches the history and culture of the Unites States and Hungarian American relations. The section begins with detailed information on Pulitzer’s ancestry and childhood in Makó, describes his education and domestic life in Budapest, and goes on to discuss his emigration to the United States and the hardships he had to suffer at the beginning of his adventure before his talents were discovered. His journalistic career was the result of conscious fabrication and luck. This chapter also details his relationship with his family and other Hungarian immigrants, his wealth and influence within the country, and ultimately his death. His most important connection to Hungarian heritage was his serious interest in the War of Independence, and it manifested in his actions cherishing the concept of freedom. This is probably the reason why his two main contributions to the development of American society were his endeavours to propagate the freedom of the press and to collect donations for the construction of the Statue of Liberty.

András Csillag compiled a truthful and comprehensive biography about Pulitzer, as he presents not just Pulitzer’s irresistible charms but also his less popular actions. Joseph Pulitzer was known as a self-made man, the epitome of the American rags-to-riches story, even though his career was preceded by and grounded in a profound education in Hungary, where he learnt German, French, and commerce. He was mesmerized by the concept of the War of Independence, in which he could not fight. His role model was Lajos Kossuth, another important Hungarian historical figure who had a connection to the United States of America. The restless fire in Pulitzer’s heart and his stepfather drove him out of Hungary, and in America he eventually made his fortune. He fought in the Civil War with German soldiers, and worked under inhumane conditions for minimum wage until he was discovered playing chess. Parallel to becoming a secretary, he finished law school and started to work as a journalist at Westliche Post in St. Louis. He did not stop his hard work until he was the head of two prestigious newspaper companies: The World and St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

He became a symbol of American journalism and, as he was fluent in English, his Hungarian past evaporated. He started a family: he married Kate Davis, and they had seven children. Although he never denied his Hungarian origins, he never spoke about it, nor did he use his mother tongue. His relationship with his brother, who also became a famous journalist in America, was corrupted by financial issues. He embraced neither his long-lost family members nor his fellow Hungarian immigrants who wished for job opportunities. At the same time, he was ardent about Hungarian politics, listened to Ferenc Liszt and Gypsy music, and welcomed Mihály Munkácsy to the country with utmost reverence.

The second chapter of the book was written by Pál Halmágyi, who is a history teacher in a grammar school and the director of the József Attila Museum in Makó. His patronage of the project of reviving Pulitzer’s memory in his hometown is very important to him. His chapter is entitled “100 Years of the Pulitzer Cult in Makó 1911-2011,” and it discusses the process of the popularization of the great newspaper mogul in his hometown in a documentary style. It is a regrettable fact that it took such a long period of time to revive the memory of Pulitzer. The reason behind this is that it was not easy to establish a connection with America and to accept and honour an emigrant because of the radical social changes after World War II.

From 1981, the framework of the project of the cultivation of Pulitzer’s memory was worked out, but there was a lack of actual development. In 1985, András Csillag started his research and published his first findings. Additionally, as a result of the endeavour of the American Ambassador and a few curious politicians, and thanks to the affirmation and financial and documentary support of Pulitzer’s grandson, the celebration of the 140th anniversary of Joseph Pulitzer’s birthday took place in 1987 in Makó. The two highlights of the event were the unveiling of a plaque by the sculptor Jenő Ferenc Kiss, which was placed on the front of the house where Pulitzer was born, and a small exhibition presenting documents related to the emperor of journalism.

Beginning in 1987, András Csillag spent two years at the School of Journalism at Columbia University. In addition to his research and studies, he upheld contact with Pulitzer’s grandson, also named Joseph Pulitzer. In 1990, the young Pulitzer visited Makó with his wife, and in 1991 the first Hungarian Pulitzer prize was awarded in Budapest. In 1997, the final steps were made to reach the goals the organizers had pursued throughout the years. The 150th anniversary of Pulitzer’s emigration was celebrated with the inauguration of a bust sculpted by Jenő Ferenc Kiss, a speech by András Csillag about Pulitzer, and another presentation by Donald Blinken, head of the American Embassy, about the freedom of press, concluding with a press conference.

The events of the Pulitzer commemoration evolved further between 1998 and 2007, until the organizers agreed to arrange a memorial celebration on Pulitzer’s 155th birthday and to commemorate the anniversary of his death as well. On these occasions, a full-day program was arranged, complete with the placing of wreaths at the bust and the plaque, accompanied by eloquent speeches. Since 2007, the occasion is known as the Pulitzer Memorial Day and Awards Ceremony, as the organizers began awarding young and proficient veteran journalists with the Prize of Pulitzer’s Native Town on these days. The third chapter ends with an appendix in which letters and speeches in connection with the whole cult organizing process are listed, which can provide a starting point for a researcher beginning to get acquainted with Pulitzer’s life as well.

The last part of the book is a compilation of photos, maps, pictures, and paintings, in chronological order, which show the town of Makó between 1821 and 1924, Pulitzer and a few of his family members from Hungary and America, buildings connected to him, the mastheads of his newspapers, the gold medal of the Pulitzer Prize, and ultimately official photos from the recent memorial events organized in Makó. The only deficiency of the book stems from the placement of these pictures. Although each of them is subtitled in both languages, only a few of them are referred to in the texts. The reading experience would have been more entertaining and traceable if the relationship between the text and the images had worked more like referential hyperlinks.

I think that foreign readers will be as satisfied with this publication as Hungarian Pulitzer fans. All in all, I would recommend this book to all readers who are interested in a real-life rags-to-riches story, with all of its ups and downs, and who are inquisitive about famous people or want to become familiar with the life and legacy of the Hungarian Joseph Pulitzer in particular. For those who are not interested in the topic of organizing memorial events, the second main part of the book might appear a bit dry and dense. However, the biography is worth reading, as it presents and unveils career-related and personal secrets about Joseph Pulitzer. The restless, noble-minded and energetic mastermind of free journalism and the pioneer of implementing ingenuous projects can become an inspiration to everyone who aspires to become a self-made man.