Salamishah Tillet

Salamishah Tillet photo

Author, activist, and cultural critic Salamishah Tillet received this year’s Pulitzer Prize in criticism for her New York Times essays on race in arts and culture.

Tillet is a Henry Rutgers Professor of African American Studies and Creative Writing at Rutgers-Newark and the director of Express Newark, a center for socially engaged art and design that brings together the Rutgers-Newark community and city residents. She joined the faculty in 2018.

A contributing critic-at-large for The New York Times since 2015, Tillet’s work covers popular culture, gender, sexuality, race, and politics as they play out in both popular entertainment and high art, from Netflix series to museum exhibitions.

Since 2020, the murder of George Floyd and the resulting Black Lives Matter protests have informed the way she approaches her role at The New York Times, she said.

“I really wanted to pay attention to the ways in which culture and art can be both an indicator of change and also perhaps an alternative to the problems that we have today,’’ explained Tillet. “Most of my work over the last year was looking at how Broadway or television or films or photographs have explored this loss but also offered us solace, and particularly the role of Black artists as a way of understanding how to get through what is really a traumatic and profound moment for our nation.”

The Pulitzer judges cited Tillet “for learned and stylish writing about Black stories in art and popular culture—work that successfully bridges academic and non-academic critical discourse.”

Tillet, who lives in Newark, received her bachelor’s degree in English and Afro-American studies from the University of Pennsylvania, where she became a member of Phi Beta Kappa. She continued her education with a master’s in teaching from Brown University and a Ph.D. in American studies from Harvard University.

Her recent work includes the podcast series Because of Anita, which focuses on the impact of Hill’s 1991 testimony at hearings for Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas, where she accused him of sexually harassing her. 

Tillet is the author of Sites of Slavery: Citizenship and Racial Democracy in the Post-Civil Rights Imagination and In Search of The Color Purple: The Story of an American Masterpiece. She was recently awarded the 2020 Whiting Foundation Creative Nonfiction Grant for her work-in-progress, All the Rage: Mississippi Goddam and the World Nina Simone Made. She is also the co-founder of A Long Walk Home, Inc., a nonprofit organization that uses art to end violence against girls and women.

Read more about Tillet’s accomplishments and her recent Pulitzer Prize recognition in the full Rutgers University press release.