March 3, 2024 By Norris Burkes

Ten years ago, I was at a writing seminar hanging around the snack table, when one of the seminar instructors joined me for a Danish.

He was a quiet, introspective man, truly a statesman among aspiring student writers. That’s why I guided him to the quiet side of the room to tell him I thought he was lying.

Not in those exact words. I constructed a more diplomatic approach that went something like this:

“You were introduced as a ‘Pulitzer Prize nominee,’ but a quick Internet search tells me that we share some confusion over the term ‘nominee.’”

For a moment he glanced at this watch, but unfortunately realized he had time to hear me out.

“If you’d met me last year,” I explained, “I would have told you that my syndicated column had received a Pulitzer Prize nomination.”

“And it was not?” he asked.

“Sadly, no.”

I told the aging professor how my “Florida Today” editor had submitted the dozen columns I’d written during my 2009 deployment to a combat field hospital in Iraq.

“Yes,” said the professor, “My publisher also submitted my work.”

As he gathered his lecture notes, he dismissively added, “Congratulations, it sounds like we are both Pulitzer nominees.”

“No, we are not.” I said, “but we both made the same assumption. We assumed that our editor’s submission of our work equaled a Pulitzer nomination.”

Sadly, the difference between a Pulitzer submission and a Pulitzer nomination is about as far as “ticket purchaser” is from “lotto winner.”

I showed him the Pulitzer website on my tablet where he read “More than 2,500 entries are submitted annually for Pulitzer Prize consideration, yet only three in each category are bestowed with the prestigious title of Pulitzer Nominee.”

“In fact,” I said, “anyone of my fellow conferees can submit their work for Pulitzer consideration as long as they send $75. But only the Pulitzer committee can bestow the title of Nominee.”

The professor seemed embarrassed that a pupil had schooled him in the difference. 

Our stories beg the complicated question: “Can one be a lair if one doesn’t know he’s lying?” Another facet of the question is: “Does one’s story default to becoming the truth if one doesn’t bother to fact check the story?”

In other words, in a quick check of the Pulitzer website you’ll note the glaring absence of our names. And that omission, for a time, made us both liars.

For the duration of the conference, the professor continued to allow his introductions to claim a Pulitzer connection. Just as it took some time for me to remove the notation from my website.

I guess we felt much like the claim made in the movie in “A Few Good Men,” by Jack Nicholson’s character, Col. Jessup.

When Jessup is questioned on the witness stand, a shouting match ensues. Tom Cruise’s character Lt. j.g.Kaffee demands the court finally be told the truth behind a hazing incident in the Marine barracks.

We all know Col. Jessup’s answer, so say it with me.

“You can’t handle the truth!”

Neither the professor nor I handled our truths very well. Sadly, our websites boasted our Pulitzer claim for a few more months.

But centuries before that movie, Jesus set the scene for real truth in John 8:32 when he said, “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

The professor, while not religious, had no doubt heard the scripture quoted in his academic circles by those promoting academic freedom and the power of learning.

It was a minute before he and I found a way to handle our truth, but the truth eventually set us free from our egos–just as Jesus promised it would.


Note: While nowhere near Pulitzer fame, Norris’ work was recognized in the 2019 Will Rogers Humanitarian Award for his columns about Chispa Project. The charity, started by his daughter Sara, establishes Spanish libraries in Honduran elementary schools. The Honduran school year began this month so your continued support is greatly needed at

Send Chispa Project donations to 10556 Combie Rd. Suite 6643 Auburn, CA 95602. Send comments to or message at (843) 608-9715. Send book order to same address or order online at