Pitts, Leonard J., Jr.
Pitts, Leonard J., Jr.
PERSONAL: Born in Los Angeles, CA; married Marilyn Pickens; children: five children.
ADDRESSES: Home—Bowie, MD. Office—Miami Herald, 1 Herald Plaza, Miami, FL 33132. E-mail—[email protected]
CAREER: Journalist. Freelance music writer for fifteen years; Soul (tabloid), Los Angeles, CA, former editor, beginning c. 1978; Miami Herald, Miami, FL, pop music critic, 1991–94, syndicated columnist, 1994–. Hampton University School of Journalism, Hampton, VA, Scripps Howard Visiting Professional, 2004.
AWARDS, HONORS: Pulitzer Prize finalist, 1992; first-place prize for commentary in newspapers with a circulation over 300,000, American Association of Sunday and Feature Editors, 1997; American Society of Newspaper Editors award for outstanding commentary writing, 2001; named Feature-of-the-Year Columnist, Editor and Publisher, 2001; Columnist of the Year Award, National Society of Newspaper Columnists, 2002; Outstanding Newspaper Columnist Award, GLAAD Media, 2002; top prize for commentary, Scripps Howard Foundation, 2002; Pulitzer Prize for commentary, 2004; also honored by Society of Professional Journalists, National Association of Black Journalists, and Simon Wiesenthal Center; three-time recipient of National Headliners award.
Becoming Dad: Black Men and the Journey to Fatherhood, Longstreet (Atlanta, GA), 1999.
Contributor to periodicals, including Musician, Spin, TV Guide, Reader's Digest, and Parenting; writer and producer of radio programs, including Who We Are (documentary), 1988; writer for Casey's Top Forty with Casey Kasem (radio).
SIDELIGHTS: Leonard J. Pitts, Jr., began writing professionally while in college, and in 1991 he joined the Miami Herald as its music critic. A few years later, he was writing a syndicated column about social issues, pop culture, and family life.
Born in Los Angeles, California, Pitts grew up with an abusive, alcoholic father. When he was approached to write a book about raising children, he countered with his own idea—to write of the impact of such a childhood experience on a man who himself becomes a father. The book, Becoming Dad: Black Men and the Journey to Fatherhood, was called "a poignant account of the nature and meaning of black fatherhood" by Library Journal critic Anthony O. Edmonds. In the book Pitts relates his own experiences and those of other black men as well. Many of these men, Pitts writes, vowed not to use violence with their own wives and children, but not all were successful. Pitts found it difficult to write about his own father because it brought up all of the associated emotions, but he did find the process therapeutic. "I want other young men to read this book and realize that the ways in which they've learned to define and celebrate manhood have been self-limiting," he notes in his book. "Their children need them and for more than financial support. The fact that their fathers failed them doesn't mean they have to fail their children too."
Pitts notes several statistics: that the 1990 census found that sixty-four percent of black children were growing up in one-parent households, and that one-third of black men aged eighteen to thirty-nine were under the jurisdiction of the justice system, either in prison, on probation, or paroled. He also notes that by the year 2010, it was predicted that this category of men would represent more than half of that age population. "But statistics only tell part of the truth," he noted in an article for National Association of Black Journalists Journal. "The rest is to be found in the faces of women and children for whom life without man and father has become the accepted norm. Or in the faces of men who, for a variety of reasons—many good, none good enough—have left their communities, spiritually and emotionally, abandoned."
A Michigan Chronicle contributor said that Becoming Dad "is Pitts' exploration of his long journey from a terrified boy to an angry teenager to an adult making sense of his past and learning from the mistakes of his father. It's a story of killing the emotional demons of the past while forging a new path toward real fatherhood in all its glory." An Essence reviewer felt that "this book—clear-eyed and searching—is one that anyone who cares about fathering in our community won't soon forget."
Pitts has been the recipient of many awards for columns in which he addresses such subjects as hardcore rap, racial issues, terrorism, and gay marriage. His September 12, 2001 column "We'll Go Forward from This Moment," written in response to the terrorist attacks of the previous day, inspired tens of thousands of people to e-mail him. It also created more demand for his column, increasing Pitts' circulation to a total of 150 newspapers. A ninety-day archive of Pitts's columns is available at the Tribune Media Services Online Web site. His column of July 5, 2004, reflects his disappointment in the actions of the United States in the two years since.
In that column, Pitts wrote: "the United States comprises ideals. And if the people are sometimes small, the ideals are larger than life…. Granted, the distance between the people and the ideals is often vast, but that's the great challenge of American life, learning to be large…. Are we defined by how often we succeed in being large, or by how often we fail? Both, I think, because each has lessons to teach us." In 2004 Pitts won the Pulitzer Prize.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Pitts, Leonard J., Jr., Becoming Dad: Black Men and the Journey to Fatherhood, Longstreet (Atlanta, GA), 1999.
Black Issues Book Review, November-December, 1999, Fred Lindsey, review of Becoming Dad: Black Men and the Journey to Fatherhood, p. 23.
Black Issues in Higher Education, May 6, 2004, "Hampton University Visiting Professional Wins Pulitzer Prize," p. 10.
Editor and Publisher, November 26, 2001, Dave Astor, "Columnist," p. 15.
Essence, November, 1999, review of Becoming Dad, p. 100.
Jet, April 26, 2004, "Black Writers Win Pulitzer Prizes," p. 32.
Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service, April 21, 1997, Cassandra Spratling, "Columnist Leonard J. Pitts, Jr., Seeks to Make a Human Connection."
Library Journal, June 1, 1999, Anthony O. Edmonds, review of Becoming Dad, p. 144.
Michigan Chronicle, August 25, 1999, review of Becoming Dad, section C, p. 2.
National Association of Black Journalists Journal, October 31, 1999, Leonard Pitts, Jr., "A Look at Black Men and Fatherhood: Book Examines the Difficult Road to 'Becoming Dad,'" p. 17.
Tribune Media Online, http://www.tmsfeatures.com/ (July 8, 2004), "Leonard J. Pitts, Jr."