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From the "Who Knew?" files: Paul Harding, who wrote the Pulitzer Prize-winning Tinkers, is Paul Harding, who was in the 90s band Cold Water Flat.
OK, so I'm a bit late to the Tinkers party. But here's the thing: I was totally one of the few who were AT the Cold Water Flat party, so what do you have to say about that, huh? It's true. When it comes to mid-1990s alterna-pop and non-top 40 radio, I am your girl. Better than Ezra? Jennifer Trynin? Grant Lee Buffalo? Sinead Lohan? Freedy Johnston? Bring it. Been there, done that, bought the CDs, because those were the days when you liked the single played on the radio so much that you went to Zia or (R.I.P.) Tower and bought the CD, not like now when you like the song played on the radio/Lastfm/Spotify/YouTube so much that you go to iTunes and buy the song. Which you already know and hear all the time. What's the fun in that?
Anyway, so Cold Water Flat is in fact one of the bands that is even a tiny bit more special for me because I was also at the Internet party in 1995 (when many of you -- don't deny it! -- were still a bit befuddled by all this talk of Telnet and chat rooms and the email@example.com beginning to appear under the names of readers who wrote letters to the editor of Newsweek. So it was still somewhat of a novelty for me to e-mail Cold Water Flat at the e-mail address printed in their liner notes and talk about how I worked at my (ASU) college radio station and their upcoming show in Phoenix and so on ... and I got a response! I totally emailed with someone from Cold Water Flat back in the day! And no, I can't remember any of the details. Or even that long gone ASU e-mail address of mine. I transferred to USC the next year, and eventually the whole world got online, and the past faded away.
Fast forward to 2010. I'm in Chicago. I've got 700 books on my Goodreads "to-read" list. Tinkers by Paul Harding wins the Pulitzer for Fiction. No one has ever heard of this book. The interesting story in all the press and interviews and newspapers is how it was rejected by publishers before the tiny Bellevue Literary Press printed it in all its small but remarkable literary silence. The New York Times' "Look who wrote a Pulitzer" piece doesn't even mention that he was in a band until the fourth paragraph; the name Cold Water Flat comes in paragraph 14. I didn't read that New York Times piece in 2010. I noted the Pulitzer winners (because, um, I always do, since I kind of am obsessed with the Pulitzers) but all I remember thinking about Tinkers was, "Oh, that's really small. What is it? Oh, it's a tiny little white book. Note to self: read Tinkers." The title and description evoked in my mind someone older than, you know, my approximate age or a few years older. The author was obviously literary, an Iowa Wrtiers' Workshop graduate, and I mentally placed him in his 50s. (Oh, hush, you know we all make random judgments like that.)
Fast forward again to May 2012. I'm catching up on recent Pulitzer winning fiction, and I check out Tinkers from the Phoenix public library. I read it in a day or two. I like it a lot. I start reading some of the post-Pulitzer press, no longer afraid of spoilers, devouring the info about this literary wonder author who was checking the Pulitzer web site to see who won when he discovered that he won. And then I see: the drummer for Cold Water Flat. Such a flashback! Two of my worlds colliding!
I try to picture myself driving around Phoenix or L.A. in the late 1990s. I may have sold my Cold Water Flat CD in one of my great used CD purges -- back when you could actually get some money that way. Would I have ever imagined that one of the members of this band would write a novel that would surprise everyone by quietly becoming a Pulitzer Prize winner? Would the members of the band have imagined it, either?
I love creative people.
Oh, and guess what? Jen(nifer) Trynin has written a book, too.