GEORGETOWN — Paul Harding said that when he saw his name pop up online under Pulitzer Prize winners, he fell off the couch.
He then resorted to hitting the refresh button on his computer screen for 10 minutes. Then, he went into a complete hysteria, he said.
Harding, 42, of Georgetown, found out Monday his novel "Tinkers" won a Pulitzer Prize for best fiction. Published by Bellevue Literary Press, it is the first small press book to win the prize in decades.
Harding says winning the Pulitzer is "gravy" after the long and difficult road of simply getting his book published. Harding was rejected many times and had even reconciled himself to being an unpublished author.
"I couldn't get the book published, and I kept reckoning with myself, consulting with my soul," Harding said. "I told myself 'you're a writer who writes, and it may be that this never gets published and you teach freshman composition the rest of your life, but you have a perfect wife and kids, and that's already cool.'"
But in 2007, Harding's luck changed.
Harding met a writer-friend who suggested he send the manuscript to Jonathan Rabinowitz, who ran Turtle Point Press. Rabinowitz passed on Harding's book but later mentioned it to an industry veteran.
The next year, Rabinowitz told Erika Goldman, of the small Bellevue Literary Press, about "Tinkers." Goldman, of the nonprofit publisher connected to New York University's School of Medicine, immediately fell in love with the novel.
"When Bellevue said they would publish it, it was already this implausible scenario to me," Harding said. "I was so grateful there was even one book published between two covers; everything else is just gravy."
Harding describes the last few years as a joy ride. Without a huge marketing budget or a book tour, the book caught on the old-fashioned way: word-of-mouth.