Robert Ehlert: Pulitzer winner Doerr, community joined at the hip of history

It is hard, if not impossible, to measure the importance and impact of the news that Tony Doerr is a Pulitzer Prize winner for his great work “All The Light We Cannot See.”

Even Doerr is still processing the honor personally and professionally as he tours Europe to promote his novel, a World War II-era tale that juxtaposes the stories of a blind French girl and a young German soldier.

Doerr was born in Cleveland, but Boise and Idaho can certainly lay claim to him for posterity and history. Our most livable city has been a proving ground combining Doerr’s inspirational Foothills excursions and writing episodes, which, after a decade, produced a best-selling work that also was a finalist for the National Book Award.

It is that perseverance and dedication to his story that make us especially proud in Idaho, because achieving Pulitzer recognition in the arts is one of the most rare and endearing accomplishments. Such an award will never be forgotten. As other winners have pointed out, it will decorate their legacies and be the first line in their obituaries.

The place Doerr calls home will share in that reflected glory because Boise will be forever remembered as the atmosphere that spawned such a work. Though we are rightly proud of our Idaho legacy businesses and iconic public servants around here, a great book transcends commerce and politics to find a path to the soul. So Doerr joins the exclusive Pulitzer club that includes Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner, Harper Lee and Idaho native Marilynne Robinson, now an instructor at the famed Iowa Writers’ Workshop on the campus of the University of Iowa.

When I attended Iowa, I found excuses to take the stairs to the top floors of the English-Philosophy Building on the banks of the Iowa River, which is where the workshop was located then. There I tried to steal looks beyond the reception area, and I would walk the halls, if just to breathe that air and imagine what kind of work and muse lived behind those walls. Later in life I was privileged to interview Pulitzer winners August Wilson (drama, 1987, 1989) in St. Paul, Minn., and Jorie Graham (poetry 1996) in Iowa City, and I forever associate where they lived at the time they produced their works.

Beginning tomorrow, literary pilgrims may begin the association of Boise and Doerr on their visits to the Treasure Valley, and perhaps behold the hiking paths and other outdoor haunts where Tony Doerr walked or ran — paths that eventually led him down a road to creating a passage in a Pulitzer Prize-winning effort.

From those of us in awe, we congratulate Doerr and wish him the very best. I look forward to the day when something around here gets named in his honor, because Boise no doubt will be honored by this association. This is where that guy spent 10 years creating something magical that now enjoys the immortality of “The Old Man and the Sea” and “To Kill a Mockingbird.”