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Pulitzer recipe: talent, persistence and a stapler

A couple of years ago, author Paul Harding rearranged passages from the draft of what would become his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel “Tinkers” using scissors, scotch tape and a stapler.

“What a surprise,” recalled Harding, who discussed his award-winning debut novel at Northeastern University’s Meet the Author series earlier this week. “I had a novel in my hands.”

It was a novel, however, without a publisher. It sat in a drawer for three years, Harding said, while publisher after publisher turned down the manuscript in what he referred to as “perfectly polite” and “perfectly obnoxious” ways.

Last year, Bellevue Literary Press—a tiny nonprofit run out of what Harding called a “glorified janitor’s closet”—published the book, the story of a dying man who struggles to recall his impoverished childhood in Maine.

The book received good reviews from The New Yorker and The Boston Globe and Harding started a grassroots campaign to generate interest in the novel. He toured bookstores and book clubs in people’s living rooms, where, he said, “I ate a lot of casseroles.”

He had a screaming fit when he found out that he’d won the Pulitzer Prize.

“It was the only time in my life that I’ve had a waking blackout,” said Harding, who has taught writing at Harvard University and the University of Iowa. “The facts outstripped my ability to believe in them. There’s something that’s still detached about it.”

Harding drew inspiration for the novel from his grandfather, who often told him stories of his childhood in northern Maine, and from his own time spent “playing with grass and birch bark near creeks.”

The ways in which characters interact with nature play a major role in the book, which Harding described as an “imagined version of his grandfather’s stories that achieved their own integrity.”

Harding, a drummer in the now defunct rock band Cold Water Flat, said he’s “kind of an ersatz composer” who writes as if he’s making a collage.

He favors character development over plot, and described the writing in “Tinkers” as “unlineated poetry that is very lyrical.”

And now he has a well-known, well-heeled publisher for his next two novels, Random House.

As part of the Meet the Author event, the University unveiled the Anna & Eugene M. Reppucci Alumni Reading Room, a space in Snell Library for alumni to conduct research, attend special functions and network.

Northeastern received a gift from Mr. and Mrs. Reppucci’s son, Eugene M. Reppucci Jr., E ’60, MEd ’65, Hon ’95, to build the reading room.

“This is a true symbol of what we want our alumni to do,” said Jack Moynihan, vice president for alumni relations and The Northeastern Fund.

“The key to this is Huskies helping Huskies,” he added, noting that Reppucci and his wife, Corinne, are lifelong supporters of the University who can often be found cheering on the Huskies at Matthews Arena.

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