Marissa Bell Toffoli

Interview With Writer & Pulitzer Prize Winner Paul Harding

In books, fiction, pulitzer prize, writing on August 16, 2010 at 6:28 pm

Paul Harding

Paul Harding. Photo by Gary Ottley.

An introduction to Paul Harding, whose debut novel Tinkers (Bellevue Literary Press) won the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. Harding is at work on a new novel, Enon, which is titled after the village in Massachusetts where the story is set.

Quick Facts on Paul Harding

  • Tinkers website
  • Home: Massachusetts, north of Boston
  • Comfort food: lamb vindaloo
  • Top reads: Moby-Dick by Herman Melville, Absalom, Absalom! By William Faulkner, Remembrance of Things Past by Marcel Proust, War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy, The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann

What are you reading now?

Emily Dickinson’s poems, Samuel Beckett’s novel Malone Dies, Proust, Shakespeare’s early sonnets, rereading Henry James’ Washington Square, Karl Barth, a few things on physics and philosophy. Really, there are just piles of books all over the house, and I pick one up and look at it for half an hour, depending on what corner of what room I’m in at the time.

Where and when do you prefer to write?

I prefer to write at home, in Massachusetts, very early in the morning. That rarely happens, though, so I can pretty much write anywhere, anytime.

What do you listen to when you work?

It’s probably best not to listen to music when I write, but sometimes I do and when I do it’s Beethoven’s piano sonatas.

How do you balance content with form?

They are inextricable. The one has no meaning without the other. Both are predicates of character, of consciousness. The consciousness of a character generates content and form.

Are there any writers who have strongly influenced your work?

There are many dozens. The half-dozen who spring to mind at the moment are William Faulkner, Ralph Waldo Emerson, John Cheever, Sarah Orne Jewett, Carlos Fuentes, Anton Chekhov. I think that, when you really think about this subject, you’ll find that every writer you read influences you, positively or negatively.

Is there a quote about writing that motivates you?

I don’t know many good writing aphorisms, but one I like is Goethe’s quote, “Write without cease and without haste.” I cease writing very, very often, but I like the kind of dogged consistency implied. There seems to be something of a deep faith in process in the statement.

What’s the best advice you’ve been given as a writer?

Write grammatically correct sentences.

What book do you wish you owned a first edition of?

Maybe one of William Tyndale’s translations of the Bible.

What question do you find surprising that people ask you about writing?

There’s no one surprising question. I’m surprised a lot, but that’s because I walk around immersed in thought about writing and forget that, from the outside, it can look pretty weird.

When you’re not writing, what do you like to do?


About Paul Harding

Paul Harding graduated from the University of Massachusetts and was a drummer for the band Cold Water Flat before earning his MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. He has taught writing at Harvard and the University of Iowa. A 2010 Guggenheim Fellow, Harding now lives near Boston with his wife and two sons, and is working on his second novel, to be published in the summer of 2012.

Read an extended interview with Paul Harding in Eleven Eleven Issue 11. Harding answers additional questions about his new project, advice for aspiring writers, how his background in music influences his writing, what it’s like to win the Pulitzer for your first book, how his writing goals have changed over time, and what he finds challenging about writing.

[Toffoli, Marissa B. “Interview With Writer & Pulitzer Prize Winner Paul Harding.” Words With Writers (August 23, 2011),]

Tinkers by Paul Harding

Tinkers by Paul Harding (Bellevue Literary Press)

  1. […] Eleven Eleven Issue 11. Hot off the press and only available in print, Harding expands on his Words With Writers interview from 2010. He answers additional questions about his current project, how his background in music influences […]

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