Tinkers, not by Chance

Whatever it means to be beside oneself, that's what I've been--beside myself with hope and possibility--since Paul Harding's Tinkers won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction last week. I'm still trying to get my hands on a copy.

I understand from the NPR story that a member of the Pulitzer Committee contacted Mr. Harding and asked him to submit the novel for the prize. I wonder whether, at the time, the Committee realized how significant it would be in today's publishing environment to award the prize to a novel published by Bellevue Literary Press.

It is a remarkable moment. Commenters cite the last such award as that for A Confederacy of Dunces in 1981--but that novel was published by a university press (LSU), which I think we can view as something categorically different.

Following solid pre-publication trade reviews for Tinkers, LA Times reviewer Susan Salter Reynolds, in a brief review, called the book "astonishing." Considerable credit should go to Ms. Salter and the LA Times for taking note of this small-press book so early.

The Cleveland Plain Dealer picked up on PW's praise in early January. And then came a wash of wonderful reviews in The New Yorker, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Dallas Morning News, The Minneapolis Star Tribune, and The Boston Globe and from a good number of the best online reviewers. (Though I don't think the NYT or The Washington Post found the book--please correct me if I'm wrong.)

Something was happening that turned the eyes of some important reviewers toward a word-of-mouth book from a publishing house established in 2005. One can only cheer. Bellevue Literary Press has published only a few works of fiction--beautifully chosen by editorial director Erika Goldman. I'm not naive enough to think that the reviews and the Pulitzer Committee's nod mark a widening of the vision in the mainstream book press, but I remain hopeful that it is something other than an aberration. Some of the best fiction being published these days is handled by folks who live without a "big book" focus, without a celebrity publishing mentality. Much is happening in independent publishing--much has always been happening there. And I'm convinced that the future of American literature lies in bringing attention to all that.

My congratulations to Bellevue Literary Press, to Mr. Harding, to the Pulitzer Committee, and to those reviewers and booksellers who saw what they knew to be a fine work of fiction and championed it.


Joni Rodgers said…
Fred, I thought of you and Greg immediately when I saw this book had scored a Pulitzer -- and I am totally naive enough to think it marks a widening of the vision!
Mylène said…
I had the same, thought, Joni. Where are the "astonishing," profoundly moving books of the future going to come from? Why, from the people who care/dare to nurture them, of course.
Fred Ramey said…
Thanks Joni and Mylene. I'm hopeful that Tinkers might also set the msm reviewers to thinking about what publishing "news" is. What should they be looking for when their desks are covered with lead titles and brand authors from the big houses?

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