SCOTT SIMON, Host:
NPR's Lynn Neary has the story.
LYNN NEARY: No one notified Paul Harding that he had won the Pulitzer. There was no congratulatory phone call. He wasn't sitting around with a group of friends, waiting breathlessly for the news. Harding was alone when he checked the Pulitzer Web site, curious to find out who had won.
SIMON: I came as close to actually fainting as I think I ever have - you know, because I literally just could not believe what I saw when it came up on the website.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
SIMON: I kept refreshing the page and, you know, and it just kept coming up: "Tinkers," "Tinkers," "Tinkers."
NEARY: After Harding finished writing the book, he sent it out to agents and publishers, but there were no takers.
SIMON: So I just sort of, you know, put it in the drawer for three years, I guess, and just thought, well, this will be one I'll have in the file cabinets and I'll just, you know, start working on the next thing. And then it was sort of published - more or less - through a series of just, sort of like wonderful, improbable accidents, with the Bellevue Literary Press getting a hold of it and wanting to do it.
NEARY: The Bellevue Literary Press was not exactly known as a powerhouse in the publishing world. Erika Goldman is the publisher and editor of Bellevue. She and an assistant make up the entire staff, and their office is in a most unusual setting for a publishing company.
SIMON: Our office is nested within the Department of Medicine at the New York University School of Medicine, which is at Bellevue Hospital; hence, our name.
NEARY: A publishing colleague who had passed on "Tinkers" - because it didn't seem right for his company - thought it might work for Bellevue, so he gave a copy to Goldman.
SIMON: It just leapt off the page. You know it when a manuscript arrives that is several cuts above the norm, and this was it.
NEARY: Goldman ordered a first printing of 3,500 copies. Then a sales rep in San Francisco fell in love with the book. She got the book buyer at the independent bookstore Book Passage interested, and she brought Harding out west for a signing event. He began visiting other bookstores, and started getting invited to book clubs.
SIMON: So I went to people's houses and hung out with groups of, you know, eight to a dozen people, and sat in people's living rooms and, you know, talked about the book and art, and all sorts of pleasant things.
NEARY: The book also began to get some glowing reviews in publications like the New Yorker. Goodman says that ephemeral word-of-mouth buzz began to build.
SIMON: This is a real phenomenon. It's not hyped. It's not heavily marketed and spun. It's just passionate readers falling in love with a gorgeous work of literature and sharing the wealth.
NEARY: Eventually, "Tinkers" had gotten enough attention in literary circles that the Pulitzer committee called Goldman and asked her to submit it for the award. Still, neither she nor Harding ever expected to win.
SIMON: When I step back a little bit, you just think, oh, this is one of these really, really cool, wonderful literary anecdotes. But then what's sort of mind-blowing to me is that I happen to be the protagonist.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
NEARY: Lynn Neary, NPR News, Washington.
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