Monday, April 26, 2010

Small Publisher; Big Prize

For the first time in almost thirty years, the winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction comes not from one of the large well-known publishers but from a very small publisher: Tinkers, by Paul Harding, is published by Bellevue Literary Press, a nonprofit publisher connected to New York University's School of Medicine. The last book from a small publisher to win the Pulitzer for fiction was A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole, published by Louisiana State University Press in 1981.

In Tinkers, an old man -- a repairer of clocks -- lies dying. As time collapses into memory, he travels deep into his past where he is reunited with his father and relives the wonder and pain of his impoverished New England youth. At once heartbreaking and life affirming, Tinkers is an elegiac meditation on love, loss, and the fierce beauty of nature.

Tinkers is Harding's first novel. The publisher signed the book because she was so taken by Harding's exquisite prose: "Paul is a poet who writes prose, and his ability to evoke nuanced emotions through the images that he creates is remarkable." Publisher's Weekly, which gave it a starred review and named it one of the year's best books said "The real star is Harding's language, which dazzles whether he is describing the workings of clocks, sensory images of nature, the many engaging side characters who populate the book, or even a short passage on how to build a bird nest. This is an especially gorgeous example of novelistic craftmanship."

No one called Harding to tell him he'd won the Pulitzer; he learned of his surprising honor when he logged on to the Pulitzer web site to see who had won. Random House has signed Harding for his next two books. Harding has an MFA from the Iowa Writers' Workshop and has taught writing at Harvard and the University of Iowa. He lives near Boston with his wife and two sons.

The finalists for the fiction prize this year were Love in Infant Monkeys by Lydia Millet (Soft Skull Press) and In Other Rooms, Other Wonders (which also won this year's Story Prize) by Daniyal Mueenuddin (W.W. Norton & Company) -- both are collections of linked stories. Last year's winner was Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout, a novel told in stories and published by Random House.

Other 2010 Pulitzer winners are Lords of Finance: The Bankers Who Broke the World by Liaquat Ahamed (The Penguin Press) in history; The First Tycoon: The Epic Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt by T.J. Stiles (Alfred A. Knopf) in biography; The Dead Hand: The Untold Story of the Cold War Arms Race and Its Dangerous Legacy by David E. Hoffman (Doubleday) in general nonfiction; and Versed by Rae Armantrout (Wesleyan University Press) in poetry.

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