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Paul Harding’s first novel, Tinkers, won the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for fiction. Born in 1967 near Boston, Harding has an MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and has also worked as a musician. He is married with two sons and lives in Massachusetts, where he teaches creative writing at Harvard.
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When did you know you were going to be a writer?
I thought I was one for at least 15 years before I ever wrote a word.
Who is your perfect reader?
Somebody who is smarter than I am, and more demanding that I am.
Which book changed your life?
Henry David Thoreau’s Civil Disobedience, in terms of when I read it, mid-adolescence, and what it did to my brain.
What is your daily writing routine?
I write in the morning for three hours, and then spend some time on my lawnmower or raking leaves. Then, after the kids are in bed, I read over it and might edit.
Where do you write best?
In my study at home but, due to being a parent and travelling a lot, I’ve developed the ability to drop into a zone in my brain where I can make fiction on demand, anywhere, any time.
Who are your literary influences?
The obvious ones are the New England transcendentalists – Ralph Waldo Emerson, Thoreau, Nathaniel Hawthorne. Then there’s Herman Melville and Emily Dickinson and Wallace Stevens.
What do you snack on while you write?
I’m very ascetic. I try not to eat or drink while I write.
Which literary character most resembles you?
Oblamov in Ivan Goncharov’s novel of the same name. If left to my own devices, I lounge around with various books open, looking like I’m writing.
Which books are on your bedside table?
Ovid’s The Metamorphoses, and Marilynne Robinson’s Housekeeping.
When were you happiest?
When my children were born healthy and when my first novel was accepted to be published.
What is the best piece of advice a parent gave you?
The golden rule: be kind to strangers.
Which book do you wish you’d written?
[Melville’s] Moby-Dick; [William Faulkner’s] The Sound and The Fury and Absalom, Absalom!
What does it mean to be a writer?
It just has to do with how I’m a human being in the world. I’m constantly trying to erase the difference between myself as a human being and myself as a writer. I’m smarter and funnier as a writer.
Paul Harding’s latest novel is ‘Enon’ (William Heinemann)