Paul Harding's 'Tinkers': The Surprise Pulitzer Winner
This Monday, on April 12, the winners of the Pulitzer Prize were announced, and since then, little-known debut author Paul Harding has quickly risen to fame after his novel "Tinkers" won the Pulitzer for fiction.
The novel, about a dying man's recollection of and relationship with his father, a tinker in Maine, was turned down by every major publisher over the course of several years. It was finally published by Bellevue Literary Press, a small publisher associated with the NYU Medical School. Even after its publication and the excellent reviews across the board, few hoped for it to rise to the top. And when Harding was awarded the Pulitzer, the Boston Globe reports, he only found out by checking the award's website -- nobody had bothered to call him. "Tinkers" is the first novel from a small press to win the Pulitzer since "Confederacy of Dunces" won in 1981 and everyone in the publishing industry is scrambling to take some part of the credit for the book's success.
The Boston Globe published an article early this week about the people who pushed "Tinkers" early on, claiming the success of the book as proof of the power of word of mouth. It began with Bellevue Press Editorial Director Erika Goldman saying, "It was so exquisite that I found myself -- and this has never happened -- weeping for the beauty of the prose." Publishers Weekly's Michael Coffey stayed up past midnight reading it -- "not something I normally do." Lise Solomon, a sales representative in Northern California vowed, "I was going to make it a Bay Area bestseller."
But though the sentiments expressed in the Globe article ring true, Publishers Marketplace points out that the article unfortunately "mangl[es]" the timeline of the support for the book, and ends up "confus[ing] the record as much as clarify[ing]." Among other corrections, Publishers Marketplace points to the book's early placement on the Indie Next list and that the first review was in the Hartford Courant, two facts not mentioned by the Globe. Publishers Marketplace also claims to be on the lookout for the independent bookstores that spread the word about the book early on.
Whatever the chronology of the events, it is clear that readers across the board have fallen head over heels for "Tinkers." Publishers Weekly called it a "gorgeous example of novelistic craftsmanship," Booklist said that it is a "rare and beautiful novel of spiritual inheritance and acute psychological and metaphysical suspense," and Chris Bohjalian, writing for the Globe called it "a poignant exploration of where we may journey when the clock has barely a tick or two left and we really can't go anywhere at all." (HuffPost Books also recognized the novel in our "Best of the Best Books Lists" feature in December.) The New York Times, notably, was left in the dark about this book, and never reviewed it at all, as Gregory Cowles sheepishly admits in a PaperCuts blog.
For Paul Harding, the success has been incredible. The author, a former drummer for a rock band, said that he was "stunned," according to USA Today. "It was a little book from a little publisher that was hand-sold from start to finish," he said. He looks at the win in a practical sense, though: "I can afford to continue doing what I love to do."