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UC San Diego Professor Wins Pulitzer Prize for Central Park Five Opera

UCSD's Anthony Davis seated at piano
Erik Jepsen/UC San Diego for Pulitzer

A UC San Diego music professor and composer has won the Pulitzer Prize in music for his opera "The Central Park Five", which premiered at the Long Beach Opera in 2019, Columbia University announced Monday.

Anthony Davis was awarded the music prize for his "courageous operatic work" about the real-life case of five African-American and Hispanic teenagers convicted -- and exonerated 13 years later -- of assaulting and raping a white woman jogging through New York City's Central Park in 1989.

Their convictions were overturned in 2002 after convicted murderer and serial rapist Matias Reyes confessed to committing the crime alone, and DNA linked him to it.

"In the case of the Central Park Five, it's something that I remember very distinctly living in New York at the time," Davis said in a Long Beach Opera video. "I think it's important that we revisit these moments to think and look deeply into it."

Pulitzer Prize Administrator Dana Canedy said the opera "skillfully transforms a notorious example of contemporary injustice into something empathetic and hopeful."

The award specifically honors a distinguished musical composition by an American that has had its first performance or recording in the United States during the year along with $15,000.

"Through music, I think I can try to get people to empathize with the five and imagine that they are one of the five," Davis said.

A 1975 graduate of Yale University, Davis is currently a professor of music at the University of California, San Diego.

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