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Thomas Pynchon

From Academic Kids

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Thomas Pynchon pictured in his high school yearbook.

Thomas Ruggles Pynchon, Jr. (born May 8, 1937) is an American novelist noted for his complex, labyrinthine, and critically acclaimed works, including V., Gravity's Rainbow, and The Crying of Lot 49. In addition to his actual written works, he is also noted for his reclusive nature; few photographs of him have ever been published.

Contents

Biography

Thomas Pynchon was born in Glen Cove, Long Island, New York to Thomas Ruggles Pynchon, Sr. and Katherine Frances Bennett Pynchon.

Pynchon graduated from Oyster Bay High School in 1953. He attended the Engineering Physics division at Cornell University, but left at the end of his second year to join the US Navy. He returned to Cornell in 1957 to pursue a degree in English. His first short story, A Small Rain, was published in the Cornell Writer in May, 1959. He received his BA in June, 1959.

After graduation he began work on his first novel. During this time, from February 1960 to September 1962, he worked as an engineering aide at Boeing, writing technical documents for the Bomarc Service Information Unit and the Field Support Unit for the Minuteman missile project, both nuclear missile projects. V. was published in 1963 and won a William Faulkner Foundation Award for best first novel of the year.

Pynchon's second novel, The Crying of Lot 49, is short, witty and relatively accessible—but, even so, the plot is too elaborate and absurd to fit into a brief summary. It features an ancient, underground mail service known as the "Trystero".

His most famous novel is his third, Gravity's Rainbow, published in 1973 to widespread critical acclaim and winning the 1974 National Book award. Set in Europe at the end of the Second World War, Gravity's Rainbow combined and elaborated on many of the themes of his earlier work, including paranoia, conspiracy, synchronicity, and entropy. It is an incredibly dense and allusive novel that requires considerable erudition simply to follow the plot, something that many of the characters seem to have difficulty with. Knowledge of psychology, mathematics and German literature all help.

Around this time, Pynchon became notorious for his avoidance of public view, and many rumors circulated about his identity. Only a few photos of him are known to exist. In 1975, Pynchon declined the William Dean Howells Medal of the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

Shortly before the publication of Mason & Dixon in 1997, he was tracked down and filmed by CNN. Angered by this invasion of his privacy, he agreed to give CNN an interview in exchange for not revealing his photographs. When asked about his reclusive nature, he replied, "My belief is that 'recluse' is a code word generated by journalists... meaning, 'doesn't like to talk to reporters.'"

Pynchon received a MacArthur Fellowship in 1989.

Literary critic Harold Bloom has named him as one of the four major American novelists of his time, along with Don DeLillo, Philip Roth, and Cormac McCarthy.

Pynchon lives in New York City, with his wife and agent, Melanie Jackson, and their son, Jackson Pynchon.

Rumors

  • It has been suggested that Pynchon and one Wanda Tinasky are the same person. Several letters authored under the name Wanda Tinasky in the late 1980s were published in the Anderson Valley Advertiser in Anderson Valley, California. The style and content of these letters closely resemble Pynchon's, and Pynchon's Vineland, which was written at that time, also takes place in Anderson Valley. Pynchon may have been in the area, conducting research. A collection of these letters has been printed as a paperback book entitled The Letters of Wanda Tinasky; however, Pynchon himself denies having written the letters.
  • It has been rumored that Pynchon's next book will be about the life and love stories of Sofia Kovalevskaya, whom he allegedly studied in Germany. The former German minister of culture Michael Naumann has claimed that he assisted Pynchon in his research about "a Russian mathematician that studied for David Hilbert in Gttingen". It has been noted that Kovalevsky's nom de plume "Tanya Raevsky" is suspiciously similar to "Wanda Tinasky".
  • In an essay entitled "One Writer's Big Innings," novelist Robert Clark Young gives a humorous account of persuading his father, a Department of Motor Vehicles employee, to use the DMV computers in the 1980s to track Pynchon to his home in Aptos, California. The plan was to draw a large muted post horn on Pynchon's front door in order to teach him a lesson for "writing books that make people paranoid."
  • Pynchon's reclusive nature led to some suspicions in the 1970s that "Thomas Pynchon" was actually a pen name of J.D. Salinger, another notoriously reclusive author. No evidence was ever presented to support this rumour.

Trivia

  • Thomas Pynchon made an appearance (of sorts) in an episode of The Simpsons, "Diatribe of a Mad Housewife". He played himself, with a paper bag over his head: "Hey, over here, have your picture taken with a reclusive author! Today only, we'll throw in a free autograph. But, wait! There’s more!" He made an appearance in a second episode, "All's Fair in Oven War" (episode #1520), which was the sixteenth-season premiere. In this cameo, his dialogue consisted entirely of puns on his novel titles, e.g., "the frying of latke 49".
  • He is known to be a fan of Roky Erickson.
  • He wrote the liner notes for "Nobody's Cool", the second album of indy-rock band Lotion. He wrote, "...rock and roll remains one of the last honourable callings, and a working band is a miracle of everyday life. Which is basically what these guys do."
  • Wrote the liner notes for Spiked, a collection of Spike Jones' music.
  • Pynchon was a good friend of Richard Faria's at Cornell University, where both briefly led what Pynchon has called a "micro cult" around Oakley Hall's novel Warlock (1958).
  • The first draft of Gravity's Rainbow was written in longhand on engineer's graph paper in Mexico City and California.

Works

As well as fictional works, Pynchon has written essays on subjects as diverse as the Watts Riots and missile security. He has written articles for the New York Times Book Review and The New York Review of Books and blurbs for books and records.

See also

External links

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