When the Pulitzer Prizes were announced last week, there were two wonderful surprises. The Prize in Editorial cartooning went to San Francisco’s Mark Fiore, and the Prize in Fiction went to Tinkers, by Paul Harding, published by Bellevue Literary Press, a tiny press in California.
I’ve been watching Fiore’s animated cartoons for three years now. He does a great job of nailing the politics and issues of our times. He’s self-published on his own website, and he tried to sell an app to Apple. They rejected it as too controversial, or perhaps as too inflammatory–I’m not sure what. When Fiore mentioned this after getting the prize, Apple promptly back-peddled and sold Fiore his app.
Harding’s story is more poignant, at least to me as a writer. The New York Times, acknowledging that they themselves had declined to review Tinkers, had a lovely story about “Mr. Cinderella.”
The Times wrote, “Six years ago Paul Harding was just another graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop with a quiet little novel he hoped to publish. He sent copies of the manuscript, in which he had intertwined the deathbed memories of a New England clock repairer with episodes about the dying man’s father, to a handful of agents and editors in New York. Soon after, the rejection letters started to roll in. They would lecture me about the pace of life today,” Mr. Harding said last week over lunch at a diner in this college town, where he is now teaching at the workshop. “It was, ‘Where are the car chases?’ ” he said, recalling the gist of the letters. “ ‘Nobody wants to read a slow, contemplative, meditative, quiet book.’ ”
Tiny Bellevue Press took on the book, which was highly recommended by Harding’s teacher, Marilyn Robinson–who wrote Gilead, a novel that I consider one of the ten best books of the last ten years. The print run, 7000 copies, was too small for the big box stores or the chains, and it was the Independent book stores who brought Tinkers to the attention of readers around the country. One of those readers was on the Pulitzer committee.
There were a few other unusual prizes in this year’s Pulitzer, but these two stand out, because for once, art triumphed over the market. It doesn’t happen often, so let’s savor the times when it does.