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Thomas Pynchon: A Chronology

"Every contact leaves traces."

Someone from Southern California's mapping of Pynchon's whereabouts

8 May 1937

Thomas Ruggles Pynchon, Jr, born in Glen Cove, Long Island, New York, oldest son of Thomas R. Pynchon (1908 - 1995) and Catherine Bennett. His father is a surveyor and a highway engineer and served as Oyster Bay Town supervisor. Thomas Pynchon has a brother, John, and a sister, Judith. Before moving to East Norwich, Oyster Bay, Long Island in 1941 or 1942, the Pynchon family lived in Glenwood Landing, N.Y.


Thomas Pynchon publishes some stories and columns in Purple and Gold, the Oyster Bay High School gazette. His column (which he signs with Roscoe (or Boscoe) Stein, and Bosc) The Voice of The Hamster gets censored. He is class salutatorian and receives an award for the senior attaining the highest marks in English.

"Pynch" ; P & G ; Yearbook ; Trade Fair 2,
3, 4 ; Sr. Play student director ; Spanish
Club 6, 4 ; Honor Society 3, 4 ; likes pizza ;
dislikes hypocrites ; pet possession, a type-
writer ; aspires to be a physicist.From the 1953 yearbook

Enters Cornell University. Starting off in an engineering physics program, he switches during his sophomore year to English literature.


Mr. Pynchon interrupts his studies and takes a two year stint in the US Navy —his file got lost in a fire (Saint Louis)— which provides mr. Pynchon with some of his favorite characters (Pig Bodine) and settings (Malta). He may have served as a signal corpsman.


Returns to Cornell. Friends: Richard Fariña, Faith and Kirkpatrick Sale (Faith Sale would be one day Pynchon's editor for V. and Gravity's Rainbow), Jules Siegel, David Shetzline. Gets his degree, a B.A. in English Literature, in June 1959. May have been —though this is a bit unlikely— attending courses given by Vladimir Nabokov. He attended courses by Mike Abrams (18th centure literature) and Baxter Hathaway.


(March)"The Small Rain",Pynchon's first published story, published in the Cornell Writer, Volume VI, number 2, pp. 14-32. (Spring)"Mortality and Mercy in Vienna", second story, published in Epoch n° 9, pp. 195-213. This is the only story that will go uncollected in Slow Learner. Lives in Greenwich Village. Applies for a Ford Foundation Fellowship in order to write an opera libretto, application which is turned down. He refuses a Wilson Fellowship. Onset to a musical, together with Kirkpatrick Sale, Minstrel Island."Low-Lands", third story, published in New World Writing n° 16, pp. 85-108."Entropy", fourth story, published in Kenyon Review n° 22, pp. 277-292.

Pynchon's Seattle House

Pynchon received letters on this address in Seattle

Works for Boeing in Seattle. As a technical aide (and not as a technical writer, as is widely presumed), he writes an article in Aerospace Safety, "Togetherness", pp. 6-8 (December 1960). Author is"Thomas H. Pynchon". There's a rumour mr. Pynchon collaborated on the Minuteman missile. In 1961,"Under the Rose", fifth story and an early version of V.'s Chapter 3 published in Noble Savage n° 3, pp. 223-251. It receives an O'Henry Award and is collected in Price Stories 1962: the O. Henry Awards. The introduction by Richard Poirier, discusses (also) Pynchon: the first article to be written about Thomas Pynchon. (November, 2) His agent Candido Donadio asks for an endorsement on Joseph Heller's Catch-22. Thomas Pynchon writes back -on quadrille paper, as is, or was, his habit:

"I love it. I won't tell you how much, or why, because I always sound phony whenever I start running off at the mouth like a literary critic. But it is close to the finest novel I've ever read.

ps -- Who is this guy Heller and when is he going to write another one?"

In an undated letter to Heller, Donadio refers to the V. manuscript as World on a String.

V. - Advance Copy

V.: Advance copy, 1962

Finalising V., some letters between Pynchon (who lived in Mexico City at the time) and editor Faith Sale on the editing process. Publisher was Jonathan Lippincott, Philadelphia. The novel wins the William Faulkner Foundation Award (best début of the year, now called PEN Faulkner Award). The advance copies contain following text on the front cover:

"J. B. Lippincott Company takes pleasure in sending you this advance copy of what will almost certainly be the most original novel published in 1963. No novel we have put under contract in the last decade (remember To Kill a Mockingbird!) has stirred up as much advance excitement and passion within the house. It has been called everything from"an 'off-Broadway' novel" to"the most important piece of fiction written since 'Ulysses". We have no doubt that this astonishing first novel by an immensely talented young writer will be controversial and much discussed from the moment of its publication in March 1963."


(December, 19)"The Secret Integration", his fifth story, published in The Saturday Evening Post (pp.: 36-37; 39; 42-44; 46-49; 51).


(December) Esquire publishes"The World (This One), the Flesh (Mrs. Oedipa Maas), and the Testament of Pierce Inverarity", a fragment of The Crying of Lot 49 (pp. 170-173; 296; 298-303). Writes A Gift of Books, recommendation of Oakley Hall's Warlock in Holiday vol. 38, nr. 6 (pp. 164-165). First translation: V. is translated into Italian by Liana M. Johnson. In 1966, (March) publication of "The Shrink Flips", a second fragment of The Crying of Lot 49, in Cavalier, pp. 32-33; 88-92.

Publication of Richard Fariña's Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up To Me. The support notice is written by Pynchon (back flap of dust jacket). Mr. Pynchon was Fariña's best man at his wedding with Mimi Baez.

The Crying of Lot 49, first edition, 1966

Publication of The Crying of Lot 49, mr. Pynchon's second novel, again at Lippincott's. (June, 12) One year after the heavy race riots in Watts, LA, an essai, "A Journey Into The Mind of Watts", published in the New York Times Magazine (pp. 34-35; 78; 80-82; 84) -- editor at the time was Kirkpatrick Sale. (July, 17) "Pros and Cohns", letter to the editor of The New York Times Book Review on the Gengis Cohen character in The Crying of Lot 49 (pp. 22; 24) .


The Crying of Lot 49 wins the Richard and Hilda Rosenthal Foundation Award of the National Institute of Arts and Letters. First translation into French: Plon (Paris, France) publishes V., translated by Minnie Danzas, and first translation into Swedish: Buden på nr 49, translated by Caj Lundgren. First dissertation of the third cycle which also discusses Pynchon: Jesse P. Ritter,"Fearful Comedy: The Fiction of Joseph Heller, Gunter Grass, and the Social Surrealist Genre". University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, Arkansas, United States (1967): DAI 28, 1447A.


First translation into German: V. translated by Dietrich Stössel (Dusseldorf, Rauch). First translation into Danish: Katalognummer nr 49 udbydes, translated by Arne Herløv Pedersen.

1969 (?)

Mr. Pynchon answers a letter from student Thomas F. Hirsch. Subject is V.'s Chapter 9, Mondaugen's Story. The year 1969 may be a typographical error.

"[...] I feel that the number done on the Herero head by the Germans is the same number done on the American Indian head by our own colonists and what is now being done on the Buddhist head in Vietnam by the Christian minority in Saigon and their advisors: the imposition of a culture valuing analysis and differentiation on a culture that valued unity and integration."


(February, 28) Gravity's Rainbow, his third novel. The novel, dedicated to Richard Fariña, who suddenly died in 1966, shared the 1974 National Book Award with A Crown of Feathers and Other Stories, by I.B. Singer. The award was accepted for mr. Pynchon by comedian Irwin Corey. In its first year it sold 45,000 copies.

The 1974 Pulitzer Prize Committee for the Fiction Award wishes, unanimously, to honor Gravity's Rainbow. Its advisory board advised strongly against it, considering the novel 'obscene'. First monography on Pynchon, by Joseph Slade.


Thomas Pynchon declines the William Dean Howells Medal for 1975 (which crowns every 5 years the best US novel). First translation into Spanish: La Subasta del Lote 49, translated by Veronica Head. (1976). (March 1977) Playboy article by Jules Siegel:"Who Is Thomas Pynchon And Why Did He Take Off With My Wife?". First translation into Dutch: De veiling van nr 49, (clumsily) translated by Ronald Jonkers, 1978


First Pynchon Notes issue, 'a newsletter'.


Introduction to Richard Fariña's Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up To Me.


Publication of Slow Learner, a collection of his early stories. Mr. Pynchon writes a remarkable introduction.

(June) "Pynchon Remembers Fariña", (pp. 20-23), the Introduction reprinted in the Cornell Alumni News.

(October, 28)" Is It Ok To Be Luddite?", published in The New York Times Book Review.

Candida Donadio (d. February 2001) sells her correspondence with mr. Pynchon for $45,000 to collector Carter Burden. Mr. Pynchon had ended his professional relationship with Donadio in 1982.


Receives a 5 year MacArthur Foundation genius grant. The file is closed.

(April, 10)"The Heart's Eternal Vow", a review of Gabriel Garcia Marquez' Love In Times of Cholera.


(12 March) Letter: "Words for Salman Rushdie." New York Times Book Review 1, 28-29. (29)


Publication of Vineland, dedicated to his parents. The novel, acclaimed as Pynchon's most readable for a large public so far, becomes a huge seller.

Pynchon marries his agent Melanie Jackson. Mr and mrs Pynchon have a son, Jackson. Melanie Jackson is the granddaughter of Robert Jackson, Chief Prosecutor for the United States at the Nurenberg Trials after World War 2, and great-granddaughter of Theodore Roosevelt.

In a letter to Fred Gardner, mr. Pynchon's agent states that the letters written by a Wanda Tinasky were 'definitely not (mr. Pynchon's) work'. This ends a controversy that began a few years earlier. In 2002, the story beyond the actual author is reconstructed.


Introduction to the collected stories of Donald Barthelme.


(June, 6) An essai on sloth: Nearer, My Couch, To Thee.


(November 19-20) First International Conference ever entirely devoted to Pynchon: Schizophrenia and Social Control, organized by Eric Cassidy and Dan O'Hara, at the University of Warwick, UK


Jacket notes for Spiked! The Music of Spike Jones.

Liner notes for rock band Lotion album Nobody's Cool.

First web site on Pynchon: the Pynchon Pomona pages at San Narciso College, California.


Introduction to Jim Dodge's Stone Junction.

(April, 30) Henry Holt publishes a fifth novel, Mason & Dixon, dedicated to Melanie and Jackson. The publisher, Michael Naumann (later to become German minister of Culture) is upset when the novel is not nominated for the National Book Award. The publication is surrounded by a small hype. Publisher's Weekly reports that in a few months 150,000 copies have been sold.

(June) CNN tracks Pynchon down: he lives in Manhattan's Upper West Side. When he is filmed he contacts the channel by telephone and requests that the footage is not televized. Pynchon tells a CNN senior producer:"My belief is, 'recluse' is a code word generated by journalists meaning 'doesn't like to talk to reporters.'


(February) The French translation of Mason & Dixon. Mr. Pynchon cooperated with the translators by fax during the translation.


Ongoing rumours on a new novel, maybe on German mathematician David Hilbert. Main source for this is former publisher and friend Michael Naumann.

Publication of David Hajdu's Positively 4th Street: The Lives and Times of Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Mimi Baez Fariña, and Richard Fariña. The author conducts an interview with Thomas Pynchon by fax.

(December) In the Japanese Playboy, a short comment on the events of 9-11. Some contest its authenticity (it is, however, duly mentioned in the Pynchon Notes ongoing bibliography).


(May, 6)"Foreword" to George Orwell's 1984, a centennial edition. Check out the differences between Guardian article and book introduction.


(January) First 'appearance' in The Simpsons, episode in which Pynchon plays himself. He says that he likes Marge's novel as much as he likes cameras.


(November, 21) Against The Day. The first reviews are rather mixed.


(June, 1) The Groupe de Recherche anglo-américaines de Tours organises the first conference on Against the Day.


(April) Pynchon elected Fellow of The American Academy of Arts and Sciences

(August, 4) Inherent Vice is published. Mr Pynchon's voice is heard in a promotional trailer (see small quote below). The first reviews of this easy read, a noir mystery novel, are usually positive. From the trailer:

M-maybe you'll just wanna read the book: I-Inherent Vice, Penguin Press. 27.95 - 27.95?! Really? That used to be, like, three weeks of groceries, man. What year is this again?


Bleeding Edge, a novel set in Silicon Ally at the turn of the century, is published on September, 17th; it receives mixed reactions.