The University Record, April 22, 1997

Former Journalism Fellow wins Pulitzer Prize

From the Michigan Journalism Fellows Program

Mike Vitez, who studied writing as a Michigan Journalism Fellow in 1994-95 while on leave from the Philadelphia Inquirer, has won the Pulitzer Prize for Explanatory Journalism, a category that stresses elegant writing. His five-part series focused on the choices and decisions people make at the end of their lives.

In the humanistic approach of the Fellows Program, Vitez took an eclectic mixture of courses, including physics with August Evrad, associate professor of physics, but concentrated on narrative structure with Frank Beaver, professor of film and video studies and of communication studies, and Eileen Pollack, lecturer in English language and literature in the M.F.A. program in English. His adviser was Charles Baxter, professor of English language and literature.

"For several reasons, I wouldn't have won this grand Pulitzer Prize if I had not been a Michigan Journalism Fellow," Vitez said. "Fiction with Eileen Pollack and screen writing with Frank Beaver really improved my writing. And, in general, I went back to the Inquirer renewed."

On hearing of Vitez's selection, Pollack said he "wanted to try his hand at fiction for its own sake and shoot new life into his prose, experiment with narrative forms in his articles. The undergraduates gave him a rough time on his first few stories, but Mike is one of the quickest learners I've ever taught, and he kept up with the best of them."

Beaver added: "Mike had sent me a copy of his articles, saying he'd used storytelling strategies picked up in the screen-writing class he took. The articles are masterful in the way that the wealth of information is embedded in powerful stories. Mike's sensitivity comes through in all of his writing, and clearly is a strong element in its success."

Journalism Fellows Program Director Charles Eisendrath added that "Mike's prize amplifies the mission of the fellowships, but only because it draws public attention to what goes on privately in dozens of cases. Routinely, top working journalists come to campus to recharge their intellectual batteries and, routinely, the faculty provides the scholarly excitement."