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After winning the Pulitzer Prize

BY ARIANA WITT | APRIL 16, 2010 7:30 AM

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Paul Harding is remaining modest.

The University of Iowa visiting faculty member, who earlier this week won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, said the prestigious award hasn’t changed his attitude toward his work.

“I feel like what the prize does is … authenticates and encourages me to keep going along the same exact way that I’ve always been,” Harding told The Daily Iowan. “It all worked out.”

Harding’s book Tinkers, released in January 2009, tells the story of a dying man’s last days and his relationship with his father. He said it was not easy to get 191 pages published by the Bellevue Literary Press.

Harding’s accomplishment has garnered significant press, because he won with his début novel and because it was published by a small press. He said the award is validation for those in the small press industry that “do it for the love of it.”

“I think it’s encouraging to them because it makes them feel like small presses still represent a legitimate part of the viability and the lifeblood of American arts,” he said.

Harding said he thinks his win is getting a lot of attention because it “came out of nowhere.”

“That’s remarkable in and of itself,” he said. “But there are a lot of people who are passionate about reading, literature, and book selling.

Others agree the win by the former student of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop speaks to the growing strength of the small press industry.

UI Workshop Professor James Alan McPherson, who won the Pulitzer in 1978 for his short-story collection Elbow Room, said he feels bigger companies are becoming more corporate — a trend that could possibly alienate readers.

“Small press books get overlooked by the media, but there is a highly literate community out there that appreciates their quality.

“People are looking for emotionally engaging craftsmanship, and they tend to get this from books written by small-press authors,” he said.

Paul Ingram, a buyer for Prairie Lights Books, 15 S. Dubuque St., said smaller publishing companies usually collaborate to market their books in a business dominated by larger corporations.

Ingram, who has read Harding’s book several times, said small presses generally publish three books every season — compared with larger presses, which publish upwards of 1,000.

Harding said he doesn’t think he will ever be “an equal” to some of his Pulitzer-winning mentors in the Writers’ Workshop, including Marilynne Robinson, who won the 2005 Pulitzer for Fiction for Gilead.

But Robinson said Harding was a “wonderful student” who is “very serious about his craft.”

And Harding said he has no plans to alter his creative process in light of the Pulitzer.

“Now I think, ‘What do I have to do now to deserve this?,’ ” he said. “It’s great, because it’s like, well, keep being humble and keep just doing what you’ve been doing, you know? Don’t change a thing.”

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