Author Paul Harding resorted to his grandfather’s intimate stories of growing up in rural Maine when writing his latest book. The novel unfolds with the memories of an old man on his deathbed, returning mentally to his childhood days and remembering his father’s fits of epilepsy.
The work, which was released in 2009, won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction last year.
The Iowa Writers’ Workshop alum will read from Tinkers at 7 p.m. today in Shambaugh Auditorium. Admission is free.
The University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics is hosting the writer as part of The Examined Life: Writing and the Art of Medicine, a conference now in its fifth year. Conference Director Jason Lewis said he came upon the novel somewhat unconventionally, but he is enthusiastic about bringing a graduate of the Writers’ Workshop and Pulitzer Prize winner to the conference.
“A friend mentioned Tinkers at a poker game right after the novel came out,” Lewis said. “I read it and loved it, so when the time came to find our featured speaker for this year’s conference, [Harding] was my No. 1 choice.”
While medicine and health are not the focus of the work, their indelible impression on the story helped Tinkers find a publisher in the Bellevue Literary Press, a project of the New York University School of Medicine.
“[Harding’s] manuscript was passed along to me by a fellow independent publisher who had been very impressed with it but felt that it wasn’t right for his list,” said Publisher and Editorial Director Erika Goldman. “What made me interested in publishing it was the remarkable writing, which struck me immediately upon reading the first few lines of the book.”
Though sparked by conversations with his grandfather, the story is not intended as autobiography or memoir, Harding said, but rather as an offering to the reader of an experience of commonality and connectedness through richness and depth of prose.
“As a writer, my job is to lead the reader to truly mysterious and meaningful places, out at the edge of what we understand, and simply stand alongside her and share in the beauty, the beauty in that profound, Keatsian sense of something being true,” he said.
The author — who, through most of his 20s, toured and recorded as the drummer of rock band Cold Water Flat — said live readings are congenial to the cadences and rhythms of the novel’s prose.
“I write by ear,” he said. “I think of the prose in Tinkers as unlineated lyric poetry. Live readings seem to work well with the book, and I think that’s because I read everything out loud as a part of the process of revision.”
And through all of his success — Bellevue Literary Press has shipped more than 385,000 copies of the novel, Goldman said — Harding remains unfazed but grateful for his accolades and opportunities.
“Really, it’s just good fortune beyond anything I ever imagined,” he said.