Andrea Elliott '96 Wins Pulitzer Prize
New York Times staff writer Andrea Elliott ’96 has been awarded the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for feature writing.
She was honored for her series, “An Imam in America,” about an Egyptian immigrant who leads a mosque in Brooklyn. Elliott covers Islam in America, a beat she created in 2005 to focus on the impact of Sept. 11 on the nation’s Muslims. The prize-winning stories can be viewed here.
“It was a wonderful, soaring moment in my life,” Elliott said of the honor, which came with a $10,000 award. “I was with my husband and mother when I got the call. We jumped out of the car, in the middle of rush hour traffic, and jumped up and down. I’ll never forget it.”
The series stemmed from months of reporting in the Muslim immigrant communities of New York City. Elliott said she wanted to get inside a world that has been largely closed to the press, in the hopes of capturing the struggles of Islam in the West through the eyes of a Muslim leader. Pulitzer judges credited Elliott for her “intimate, richly textured portrait.”
The stories focused on Sheik Reda Shata and his struggles to reconcile Muslim tradition with American life. The reaction to the series was overwhelming, Elliott said. After the stories were reprinted in Arabic throughout the Middle East, Sheik Reda was lampooned by a jihadist website in Britain. Elsewhere, scholars debated his interpretation of Islamic law, which many considered too liberal. Still other unmarried Muslims sought out his help as a matchmaker, while priests, ministers and rabbis reached out to him.
Elliott isn’t the first Occidental alumnus to win a Pulitzer. Steve Coll ’80 has won the award twice, first in 1990 when he and Washington Post colleague David Vise reported on the regulatory activities of the Security and Exchange Commission and the impact of former SEC chairman John Shad. Coll was awarded the 2005 Pulitzer Prize for general nonfiction for his book “Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and bid Laden, From the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001.”
Elliott built her journalistic foundation at Occidental. She started writing for The Occidental student newspaper the first week she arrived on campus. A colleague at the Times, Greg Cowles ’92, was one of her editors. “It was a serious, ambitious paper and I learned a lot in those years, both as a writer and as managing editor,” said Elliott, who majored in English and comparative literary studies.
She was determined to be a print journalist until her junior year, when she took a documentary film class with Esther Yau, professor of art history and the visual arts. Elliott worked in the documentary field for several years, eventually co-directing a feature documentary, “It’s All Good,” exploring the subculture of aggressive inline skaters in Los Angeles and New York. Elliott enrolled in Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism in 1999 and fell back in love with print. She graduated first in her class and won a Pulitzer Traveling Fellowship.
Elliott, who grew up in Washington, D.C., joined the Times in May 2003. She started as a general assignment reporter on the metropolitan desk and later covered the Bronx. Her stories have included an investigation of the private policing system at Macy’s department stores, coverage of the bereaved children of Sept. 11, and reporting from Washington and overseas on the Abu Ghraib prison scandal. From 2000-03, she was a reporter at the Miami Herald, where she covered crime, courts, natural disasters, immigration trends and the presidential elections in Chile.