Pulitzer Prize winner also takes the helm of the Lichtenstein Center
In 1911, nearly 50 residents were forcibly removed from Malaga Island, a one-square-mile piece of land off Maine that served as a home to an African American and Irish fishing community. This history serves as the inspiration for Pulitzer Prize winner and associate professor Paul Harding’s third novel, This Other Eden (W.W. Norton), which follows the story of the descendants of a formerly enslaved man on their home, Apple Island, and the missionary who led to their eventual downfall and expulsion from their home.
Harding’s latest work earns praise from The New York Times, Atlantic Monthly, and NPR, among others. “This Other Eden is ultimately a testament of love: love of kin, love of nature, love of art, love of self, love of home. Harding has written a novel out of poetry and sunlight, violent history and tender remembering. The humans he has created are, thankfully, not flattened into props and gimmicks, which sometimes happens when writers work across time and difference; instead, they pulse with aliveness, dreamlike but tangible, so real it could make you weep,” said Danez Smith, The New York Times.
His debut novel, Tinkers, was published in 2009 and won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction the following year. The Pulitzer Committee described Tinkers as “a powerful celebration of life [that] offers new ways of perceiving the world and mortality,” as it explores the themes of memory, mortality, and the meaning of life.
Harding described the experience of hearing that Tinkers, published by Bellevue Press who planned to print 2,500 copies of the book, won the Pulitzer Prize: “I was teaching in the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and was scheduled to teach a class that afternoon. I planned to look at the website to see the winner to discuss during class. I just remember refreshing the webpage to see the winner and suddenly, Tinkers showed, and then 90 seconds later I’m doing an interview with the Associated Press.”
His second novel, Enon (2013), was named a best novel of the year by The Wall Street Journal and the American Library Association.
Harding has also been appointed interim associate provost of the Lichtenstein Center. In this new role, Harding will provide leadership for the Lichtenstein Center, the new umbrella identity for the Southampton creative arts enterprise. The Lichtenstein Center, formed in 2023, spans three locations — Southampton, Stony Brook and Manhattan — and includes three MFAs, a BFA, two minors, and four advanced training programs. It is home to over 145 graduate students, over 200 undergraduate majors and minors in Creative Writing, Film, and TV Writing, with over 120 students participating in advanced training every year.
“Paul Harding is an extraordinary novelist and a gifted, passionate teacher — not to mention a really good drummer,” said Lichtenstein Center founder and faculty member Robert Reeves. “We are all delighted to have him on point for the newly launched Lichtenstein Center. He joins an amazing leadership team, including Carla Caglioti, Magdalene Brandeis, Lou Ann Walker, Julie Sheehan — among many, many others — who have worked tirelessly to build the constellation of creative arts programs now gathered within the Center. As Paul takes the helm of this thriving community, we are assured of strong leadership at a time when creative inquiry into the human condition is more important than ever.”
Harding described the benefit of the locations in Southampton, Manhattan, and Stony Brook. “I love when I go to Manhattan, because that’s where the film and television programs are headquartered and you get to see all the equipment cages and it’s that kind of cool, collaborative kind of kinetic environment, but students also have the opportunity to visit the Southampton campus, which is a little more bucolic, to refuel.”
Harding has taught undergraduates in the BFA program as well as MFA students and noted his appreciation and regard for Stony Brook students. “They’re the most teachable cohorts I’ve ever had,” Harding said, describing Stony Brook undergraduates. “I love teaching undergrads. The first time I taught the Old Testament, I thought there would be four students in the class, and I arrived to 60 people, of every different religion, every different kind of background. Everyone in the class respectfully discussed this anthology of sacred literature, and it was just fantastic. It was just very, very heartening.”
Harding is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship and the PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize. A graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, he was a fiction fellow at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, and has taught at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, Harvard University, and Grinnell College before coming to Stony Brook.
The Lichtenstein Center is funded by longtime supporter of the Southampton programs, Stony Brook University Board Trustee member Dorothy Lichtenstein. “Dorothy Lichtenstein really saw the value in the Stony Brook vision of a good natured, serious, vigorous, but collaborative, cooperative, synthesizing arts community and wanted to help make it work. It is exciting and rewarding to be a part of the creation of a coherent, unified arts program,” Harding noted.
— Beth Squire