Did the Pulitzer Prize Committee Choose to Award No Prize Rather Than Award Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about plays and playwrights and whether they are true or false.

THEATER URBAN LEGEND: The Pulitzer Prize Committee chose to award no Pulitzer Prize for Best Drama in 1963 rather than to give it to Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Edward Albee’s play, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? is one of the more remarkable works of drama in the 20th Century.


The play was first staged in 1962.


The story takes place at the home of George and Martha, a history professor at a college and his wife, the daughter of the president of the college. They have taken a new professor and his mousy wife out to dinner and are now back at George and Martha’s place for more drinks. The night continues as George and Martha slowly descend into a tirade of increasingly violent behavior towards each other.

Albee wished to take a darn look at the “standard” American couple and show the darkness hidden behind a typical white heterosexual couple in the early 60s.

The play opened to widespread acclaim.

It won the 1963 Tony Award for Best Play.

However much acclaim it attracted, though, it attracted the same amount of controversy. The play contained copious amounts of profanity and sexual references. In 1962-63, that was still quite shocking.

It was SO shocking that it resulted in a similarly shocking result when the 1963 Pulitzer Prizes were awarded.

The way the Pulitzer Prize works is that there are committees for each category, and they send in their recommendations and the overall committee chooses the winner, almost always taking the sub-committee’s recommendation, as the whole concept of the sub-committee is to have experts in a field pick that field’s winner.

Well, in 1963, the Best Drama committee unsurprisingly picked Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? as the Best Drama.

However, the advisory board (at the time, the trustees of Columbia University) decided that Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? was just too vulgar, and actually REJECTED the pick, so in 1963, there was no award for Best Drama.

Pretty shocking and sad.

The legend is…


Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future urban legends columns! My e-mail address is bcronin@legendsrevealed.com

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