Three years ago Paul Harding ’92 was checking out the Pulitzer Prize website so that he could discuss the winning books with his students in a writers workshop. To his surprise—and to the happy astonishment of the literary establishment—he saw his own name when he refreshed the screen.
Harding’s first novel, Tinkers, published by the obscure Bellevue Literary Press, had won the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for fiction. The quiet, contemplative book about a dying New England clock repairer, written in what he calls “unlineated lyric poetry,” became a bestseller.
Harding’s second novel, Enon, was published by Random House in September 2013 with far greater fanfare and expectations. Enon concerns some characters from Tinkers and, like that book, explores grief and love and employs a creative approach to time. However, “Its different material called for a different kind of writing,” says Harding. For instance, initially he wrote the book without using quotation marks, a style he used in Tinkers, but “the characters kept talking to one another and even I was confused when I read the dialog,” says Harding, who is enthusiastic and effusive when he discusses his craft.
Harding is also enthusiastic about his UMass days. He describes himself as “a terrible student who became a good student.” Coming to Amherst from Wenham, Massachusetts, he met students with radical politics and diverse world-views. This inspired him to take many courses in the Department of Afro-American studies, including studying music with saxophonist Archie Shepp and literature with Julius Lester.
During those formative college years he met his future wife and lifelong friends and helped form the indie rock band Cold Water Flat. After UMass, Harding toured as a drummer in the U.S. and Europe with Cold Water Flat and recorded two albums with the band. Later he focused on fiction, earning an MFA and teaching, and writing whenever and wherever he could. Now that he will forever be known as a Pulitzer Prize winning author, Harding’s years of literary struggle will be seen in retrospect as the bumpy path to his lasting accomplishments as a writer.