Biography of Thomas Pynchon

Thomas Ruggles Pynchon, Jr. was born on May 8, 1937 in Glen Cove, New York and grew up in the middle-class suburbs of Long Island. Pynchon attended Oyster Bay High School where his first authorial works were recorded. He was a frequent contributor to the high school newspaper, the Oyster Bay Purple and Gold, where he often wrote a column named "The Voice of the Hamster" under the pseudonyms: "Roscoe Stein," "Boscoe Stein," and "Bosc." In 1953, Pynchon graduated from high school as class salutatorian. He then began Cornell University, which he entered on a scholarship. Pynchon began studying engineering physics but later transferred to the English Department to study literature, where he would take a class from Vladimir Nabokov. His time at college was interrupted when Pynchon joined the Navy for a two year tour of duty, where he possibly served as a signal corpsman. Returning to Cornell, Pynchon finished his college education in 1958 and earned a B.A. Degree in English.

Pynchon began writing stories during his time at Cornell. In addition, he worked on a campus literary journal with friend, Richard Fari?a. Fari?a would later write about Pynchon in his series of reminiscences, entitled Long Time Coming and a Long Time Gone. In turn, Pynchon would comment on the dust jackets of Fari?a's novels, exulting their shared ability to "spin the reader." Before this time came, however, Pynchon refused several fellowships in 1958, such as the Wilson Fellowship, and he turned down opportunities to teach creative writing for Cornell and to fill an editorial post for Esquire. Instead, Pynchon chose to live in Greenwich Village and focus on his writing. In 1959, Pynchon's first two short stories, which he had begun at Cornell, were published. "The Small Rain" was published in March, 1959 in the Cornell Writer and "Morality and Mercy in Vienna" was published soon after in Epoch.

After a short stay in Greenwich Village, Pynchon agreed to work for Boeing Aircraft in Seattle as a technical writer and engineering aide. He would spend two years at the facility, during which he published a noticeable article in Aerospace, sardonically entitled "Togetherness," about safety procedures for the Bomarc guided missile. He also continued writing his own fiction. "Low-lands" was published in March of 1960 in New World Writing and "Entropy" was printed in the spring issue of the Kenyon Review, and has since been largely anthologized. A year later, "Under the Rose" was published in the Noble Savage and would later, after revision, become the third chapter of his first novel, V.. V. was likely also started during this time but in 1962, Pynchon left Boeing and moved further South, dividing his time between California and Mexico. Pynchon lived mostly in seclusion and generally as a nomad, a lifestyle he likely continues through the present. As O'Donnell explains, "We might speculate endlessly on the reasons for this disappearance -- shyness, xenophobia, paranoia, a mania for privacy, or, as David Seed suggests, a desire to imitate poets from the goliards to the Beats by becoming a nomad, 'a writer at large.'"

A year later, in 1963, V. was published and received instant critical acclaim. At the age of twenty-six, Pynchon was awarded the William Faulkner Foundation Award for best first novel of the year. Little is known of his activity, beyond literary activity, after this point. In December of 1964, Pynchon's story, "The Secret Integration," was published in the Saturday Evening Post. A year later, Esquire published a portion of The Crying of Lot 49, "The World (This One), the Flesh (Mrs. Oedipa Maas), and the Testament of Pierce Inverarity." This same year, The Crying of Lot 49 was published and won the Richard and Hilda Rosenthal Foundation Award of the National Institute of Arts and Letters. In March of 1966, another section of The Crying of Lot 49, entitled "The Shrink Flips," was printed in Cavalier. The important nonfiction article, "A Journey into the Mind of Watts," written by Pynchon was published June 12th in New York Times Magazine. The article detailed an "evocative description of the black ghetto in Los Angeles, then torn by race riots and, in Pynchon's words, 'impacted in the heart of this [Los Angeles'] white fantasy...a pocket of bitter reality.'"

The next major work published by Pynchon was his next novel, the very intense Gravity's Rainbow. The book was published in 1973 and shared the National Book Award with a collection of Isaac Bashevis Singer stories, A Crown of Feathers and Other Stories. The award was accepted for Pynchon by comedian, "Professor" Irwin Corey. The novel was also chosen unanimously by the Pulitzer Prize Committee for the fiction award. However, the advisory board ruled in the end that the novel was obscene and did not deserve the award. Pynchon won the Howells Medal of the National Institute of Arts and Letters and the American Academy of Arts and Letters as well but rejected the prize. Between the publication of Pynchon's next novel in 1990, he was heard from very little. Pynchon wrote a few book blurbs for authors such as Tom Robbins and Steve Erickson during this time. Slow Learner, a collection of five of Pynchon's previously published short stories, was published in 1984. In 1987, Pynchon won the extraordinary MacArthur Award, a grant which provides recipients with $1,000 times their age per year over five years. Nearly three years later, and seventeen years after his last novel, Pynchon published Vineland in early 1990. This was followed by Mason and Dixon in 1997. Blurbs, liner notes, and book introductions were the only public words provided by Pynchon since then.


Study Guides on Works by Thomas Pynchon

Thomas Pynchon's first novel, V., was published in 1963. The novel won him many awards. America began to view Pynchon as a premier Postwar writer, an able representative of the paranoid generation coming out of the McCarthy era and facing the...