Thomas Pynchon Biography

Author(1937–)
Thomas Pynchon is an award-winning novelist known for works like The Crying of Lot 49 and Gravity's Rainbow.

Synopsis

Born in 1937 in Glen Cove, New York, Thomas Pynchon studied science and English at Cornell University, publishing his first novel, V., in 1963. Subsequent works include The Crying of Lot 49, Gravity's Rainbow and Mason & Dixon, each of which is marked by a layered, complex narrative. Known almost as much for being reclusive as he is for his novels, Pynchon won the 1974 National Book Award for Gravity’s Rainbow and is slated to publish Bleeding Edge in September 2013.

Early Years

Thomas Pynchon was born in 1937 in Glen Cove, Long Island, New York, to Thomas Ruggles Pynchon Sr. and Katherine Frances Bennett Pynchon. He has two siblings: a sister, Judith, and a brother, John.

Pynchon went to Oyster Bay High School, where he often contributed to the school newspaper using pseudonyms. He graduated in 1953, when he was only 16, and was awarded the Julia L. Thurston Award for "the senior attaining the highest average in the study of English." He landed a scholarship to Cornell University and enrolled there in the Department of Engineering Physics, but at the end of his sophomore year he left Cornell to join the Navy.

After two years in the Navy, Pynchon returned to Cornell, where he met fellow writer Richard Fariña. The pair created a lifelong bond, and Pynchon would later dedicate his magnum opus, Gravity's Rainbow, to Fariña. (Pynchon would also serve as Fariña's best man and later as his pallbearer.) After transferring to Cornell's College of Arts and Sciences, Pynchon graduated with a B.A. in English in 1959. Around this time, Pynchon would see the publication of his first short story, "A Small Rain," in The Cornell Writer. Other stories appeared over the next two years: "Mortality and Mercy in Vienna," "Low-lands," "Entropy" and "Under the Rose."

The Writing Life Takes Hold

After graduation, Pynchon turned down several fellowships and teaching opportunities at Cornell and instead moved to Greenwich Village to devote himself to writing. What he was undertaking would become his first novel, V. He would soon take his novel with him to Seattle, where he took a position with Boeing as a technical writer (1960-1963).

V. was published in 1963 and won the William Faulkner Foundation Award for best first novel of the year. The novel was a good hint at what was to come from Pynchon, in that it held nuggets of his signature style: strange characters (often with stranger names), obscure references and oddball humor, all piled into a story presented in an often complicated style.

More short pieces followed: "The Secret Integration" (Saturday Evening Post, December 1964) and parts of a work in progress, which would become the novella The Crying of Lot 49 (1966). Lot 49 won the Richard and Hilda Rosenthal Foundation Award of the National Institute of Arts and Letters, and earned Pynchon widespread attention.

'Gravity's Rainbow'

Pynchon soon followed that short novel with a new short piece for The New York Times Magazine, "A Journey into the Mind of Watts" (June 12, 1966), while he kept busy writing what would become his masterwork: Gravity's Rainbow (1973). The work was hugely ambitious in scope and style, and it expanded upon every trait previously observed in the author's work.

The book shared the National Book Award for fiction with Isaac Bashevis Singer's A Crown of Feathers in 1974. (What was only hinted at previously began to be more obvious at this point: Pynchon was a recluse, and he sent friend Irwin Corey to accept the award.) It was also selected for the Pulitzer Prize in fiction. The Pulitzer advisory board overruled that decision, however, calling the book "unreadable," "turgid," "overwritten" and "obscene," so no prize was handed out that year.

In the subsequent years, Pynchon's whereabouts became essentially unknown, and still only a couple of photographs of the author as an adult exist. In 1989, Pynchon was awarded a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship, and a year later, 16 years after his previous novel, Vineland was published. Since then, Pynchon has published several other novels, although none have lived up to the reputation of Gravity's Rainbow.

Following Mason & Dixon, Against the Day and Inherent Vice, Pynchon will publish Bleeding Edge in the fall of 2013.

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