The winner of this year's Pulitzer Prize for fiction is set to return home Tuesday night for a local book signing, lecture and discussion of his debut novel, "Tinkers."
Three North Shore libraries selected Paul Harding's novel as a Community Read book, which will culminate in his lecture at Gordon College in Wenham.
"That's going to be a wonderful event," Harding said, "a kind of lovely homecoming."
On Tuesday, Harding said he plans to talk, in part, about the ways in which growing up on the North Shore and in New England influenced the story, whose main character lives in the fictitious Massachusetts town of Enon.
"The timing was perfect to have the community read his book," said Jan Dempsey, director of the Hamilton-Wenham Public Library, "because it had just won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction, and there are so many local people in the book and local places, and he is a native son of Wenham."
The Beverly and Manchester public libraries also chose the book for their community reads.
"I hope to talk about how growing up in the area informed the book," said Harding, who graduated from Hamilton-Wenham Regional High School in 1986.
In "Tinkers," Harding tells the story of George Crosby as he lies dying and is flooded with a swirl of memories spanning his lifetime, including his impoverished childhood in Maine and his epileptic father.
Harding, 42, is married and lives in Georgetown with his two sons, ages 5 and 10. The Salem News spoke with him about his North Shore roots, his writing and his upcoming visit.
When did you realize you wanted to become a writer?
I wanted to become a writer as early as high school.
What inspired you to write "Tinkers?"
The inspiration was the stories my maternal grandfather told me about his childhood growing up in northern Maine.
How long did it take?
I wrote "Tinkers" over a period of six or seven years.
Is it true that you tried for some time to get it published?
I think I got my share of the writer's common lot of rejection. After getting no interest during the first couple rounds of submissions, I put the book in a desk drawer for four years. It ended up being published by Bellevue Literary Press almost by accident.
Why do you think your novel won the Pulitzer?
That's a tough question. I meant for the book to be artful, to be written on a level comparable to my own favorite literary novels. But it's tough from my position to speculate why it won. My proper responses, I think, are humility and redoubled efforts at making the next book a worthy follow-up.
What was your reaction to the accolade, and how has it changed your life?
My reaction was disbelief and joy. I've been on a book tour pretty much nonstop since the prize was announced last April.
"Tinkers" goes into intricate detail of the workings of clocks. Did you have to study up on this?
My grandfather repaired and traded antique clocks, and I apprenticed with him for several years.
Was there anything in particular that was most challenging about writing "Tinkers?"
Personally, it was tough to write about a character with epilepsy. If that had not been part of the novel's non-negotiable dramatic premises, I'd never have written about that. I'd have been too worried about romanticizing the illness, or appropriating it in an improper manner.
What do you think of the local libraries' selection of "Tinkers" as this year's Community Read book?
It's fantastic. I love the Community Read idea, and I love libraries. The phenomenon indicates lovely things about community and fellowship and civilization generally.
What did you like about growing up on the North Shore?
I love the landscape and the culture. I spent a lot of my childhood knocking around the Audubon sanctuaries in the area.
Do you still teach writing?
I'm not currently teaching, but I'll go back to it once things settle down.
What do you hope the reader takes from your novel?
The novel has no message, no point to make. It is not explanatory. Rather, it is experiential, descriptive — hopefully of experiences rendered richly enough to generate recognition of common humanity in the reader.
Want to go?
What: SDLqAn Evening With Paul Harding," author of "Tinkers"
When: Tuesday. Book signing and reception at 6 p.m. in the Ken Olsen Science Center; lecture at 7:30 p.m. in the A.J. Gordon Memorial Chapel
Where: Gordon College, 255 Grapevine Road, Wenham
For more information or to purchase tickets online, visit www.hwlibrary.org