PSU alumnus Mitchell S. Jackson wins Pulitzer Prize

Mitchell S. Jackson ’99 and MA ‘02, a graduate of Portland State University, was awarded the 2021 Pulitzer Prize in Feature Writing for his article “Twelve Minutes and a Life.” The article, which was published in Runner’s World, looks at the life and murder of Ahmaud “Maud” Arbery, a 25-year-old Black man who was shot by white racists while jogging. 

Mitchell S. Jackson
Mitchell S. Jackson (photo by John Ricard)

The Pulitzer Prize jury described the piece as “a deeply affecting account of the killing of Ahmaud Arbery that combined vivid writing, thorough reporting and personal experience to shed light on systemic racism in America.”

Mitchell S. Jackson grew up in North and Northeast Portland and graduated from Jefferson High School. Jackson earned a bachelor’s degree in speech communication and master’s degree in writing from PSU and later received an MFA in creative writing from New York University. 

Jackson has published two books set in Portland. His critically acclaimed novel “The Residue Years” won numerous awards and was the Multnomah County Library’s Everybody Reads 2015 selection. Early drafts of the novel were written as part of his PSU master’s thesis.

“Right from the outset, Mitchell’s voice was all his own—brilliant, audacious, smashing rules in all the best ways,” said PSU English professor and novelist Diana Abu-Jaber, who was Jackson’s thesis advisor. “His spirit leaps off the page. I was so excited when I read his work and just knew he was going to skyrocket.” 

Jackson’s 2019 memoir “Survival Math: Notes from an All-American Family” was named a best book of the year by 15 publications, including NPR and Time.

Jackson teaches creative writing at the University of Chicago and is the first Black columnist to write for Esquire. Jackson, who served 16 months in the Santiam Correctional Facility in Salem before graduating from PSU, also advocates for and works with people in prisons and youth facilities and people on probation. His next novel “John of Watts” will be published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux.