Everybody Knows This Is Life-Changing

KENSINGTON, MD — Leave it to me for waiting a good four months before reacting to this news. Sometimes, as Bob Dylan warbles, “it takes a lot to laugh, it takes a train to cry,” and it takes way too much time for startling industry news to penetrate this thick skull of mine and shatter conventional wisdom.

Let’s begin with the indisputable facts as those in the know—and the rest of us, too—know them:

  • Everybody knows that major publishing houses produce Pulitzer Prize-winning novels because this distinguished award is a long established tradition and is unintentionally designed to favor the big kahunas, i.e., those presses and authors who have been blessed and accepted by the establishment.
  • Everybody knows that this long-held assumption of the book publishing industry holds true in the movie industry, where the infamous Hollywood machine manufactures and promotes major blockbusters that often are heavily favored to win Academy awards because mega budgets and mega stars produce mega results.
  • Everybody knows that it’s not likely for major award contests to conclude any other way when individual books and films with skyscraper-high advertising budgets—larger than the annual salaries of many independent press employees and low-budget indie film cast and crew members—inevitably receive the bulk of press coverage, retail space, and theater releases. Subsequently, these creative projects are successful in generating seed money and word-of-mouth equity, two integral factors that amount to a no-holds-barred, green light in the media and entertainment business.

These are the undeniable facts of popular culture, are they not?

Um, apparently not anymore. These former facts now, plainly and indisputably, are no longer valid. We’re living in wildly unpredictable, if not unprecedented, economic and consumer-driven times, and David is beginning to not only beat Goliath to a pulp, but he’s begun to corner the cowering behemoth and he’s ill-suited and uncertain about how to deliver the knockout punch.

Granted, this drubbing isn’t happening on a regular basis quite yet (many indies are lucky if they can afford this month’s rent), but it is happening, incrementally, at downtown bookstores and theaters near you and we (the little guys, you know, the Main Street folks whose kids attend the same schools as your kids and whose high blood pressure is the same as yours) just need to believe in the very formidable and valid reasons behind this healthy, table-turning development.

As conglomerates fight to merge and acquiesce to shrink (by firing people), the time indeed has come for small presses and independent bookstore owners to belly up to the blogger bar and listen to some free, if not sage, advice:  Be patient, folks, our time to prosper is just around the corner and we forever should be grateful for living in such liberating, empowering times.

Paul Harding’s debut novel, Tinkers, published by Belleveue Literary Press, a tiny independent not-for-profit press, won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction this year. Let’s say that again, only with a few more facts. Bellevue Literary Press, a five-year-old publisher affiliated with the New York University School of Medicine, produced a little book about a dying old man and his relationship with his father, and that little book won the 2010 award for distinguished fiction by an American author, an honor long treasured by every U.S. author and publisher this side and every ink-stained side of the Mississippi. It was the first time a small press had won the Pulitzer Prize since Louisiana State University Press took the prize in 1981 for John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces.

When you think about it, even if you have a head as thick as mine, why this Cinderella novel was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction—the explanation behind Paul Harding’s stunning victory and why this honor, in fact, occurred at all—should not be all that surprising.

First off, Paul Harding did not win the American author’s ultimate dream prize because of some anomaly caused by forces of nature that we could never wrap our heads around. Paul Harding won the American author’s ultimate dream prize because the world of literature deserved better and got it. Paul Harding also won the American author’s ultimate dream prize because readers deserved better and got it. And, finally, Paul Harding won the American author’s ultimate dream prize because every person involved with its publication—the author, Bellevue Literary Press, the 2010 Pulitzer Prize Board, and every editor, designer, proofreader, marketer, publicist, distributor, and bookseller who touched the book in any way, shape or form—deserved better and got it.

The state of literature has taken it on the chin lately. Conventional wisdom, formed by naysayers, prickly pundits and intellectual snobs, claims that fine literature is being overtaken by genre fiction and dying a slow death. Everybody knows this to be true, right? Wrong. We’re living in a time when the quality of fiction in this country has never been better. Several little masterpieces are written and produced each year by authors and publishing houses, both large and small, that garner little to no attention. Some of these novels are influential and change the lives of their readers by opening their eyes and hearts to new ideas.

We’re on the road to Damascus and we don’t even know it. We cry “foul” at the thought of an e-book revolution when we should embrace each turn and pay heed to every speed bump along the way. The evolving behaviors of readers and the impact of technology are redefining the role of literature. Good writing, great writing, writing that turns heads and prompts discussion and debate for new legislation, new ways of doing things, new attitudes and solutions, this kind of writing has not left us. It’s here; it’s there; it’s everywhere. And it deserves to be heard and heralded because we as a society of free thinkers deserve better.

The concept of deserving better is why Atticus Books has nominated Alex Kudera’s debut novel, Fight for Your Long Day, for the National Book Award. As stated on the National Book Foundation website, for over a half-century since its inception, the National Book Awards continue to recognize the best of American literature, raising the cultural appreciation of great writing in the country while advancing the careers of both established and emerging writers.

In the best estimate and sound judgment of our small press, Atticus Books declares that Alex Kudera is an emerging writer who deserves consideration for this honorable achievement. We endorse Alex mainly because of his adept skill to tackle immense sociological issues in a darkly comical gem of a story about a downtrodden adjunct instructor. We know the odds are against Alex and we realize the field of candidates is both strong and proven. But we think our little guy deserves a shot.

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