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Thomas Pynchon

Born in Glen Cove, Long Island, on May 8, 1936, Thomas Pynchon attended Cornell University, where he majored in engineering physics.  He received straight A's in all of his engineering and physics classes.  But, after taking a class from Vladimir Nabokov, he decided to switch his major to English literature.

After receiving his BA in literature, Pynchon spent a year in Greenwich Village writing short stories and working on a novel.  In 1960, he took a job working as a technical writer for the Boeing aerospace company.  Employees there described him as incredibly quiet and diligent.  He worked at the company for two years before traveling to Mexico, where he finished his first novel, V. (1963), a light-hearted yet cynical absurdist tale of a middle-aged Englishman's search for "V," an elusive, supernatural adventuress appearing in various guises at critical periods in European history. 

V. was one of the most critically acclaimed novels of the 1960s and won for the author the Faulkner Foundation Award.  When Time magazine sent a photographer to Mexico City to find Pynchon, legend has it that he jumped out the window of his apartment and fled into the mountains to escape.  Ever since, he has never willingly submitted to a photograph, given an interview, or appeared in public.

Pynchon's next novel, The Crying of Lot 49 (1966), is about a woman's efforts to uncover a secret international postal service called W.A.S.T.E., which exists in a futuristic closed society.  The novel serves as a condemnation of modern industrialization.  In it, W.A.S.T.E. uses a muted trumpet for its logo.  The book has become a cult classic among college students, and fans often draw muted trumpets on bathroom walls and subway corridors to suggest that the fictional postal service actually exists.

In 1973, Pynchon published Gravity's Rainbow, which many consider his masterpiece.  It explores the dilemmas of human beings in the modern world.  The story, set in post-World War II Germany in an area called "the Zone," centers on the wanderings of an American soldier who is one of many odd characters looking for a secret V-2 rocket that can break through the Earth's gravitational barrier.  The narrative is filled with descriptions of obsessive and paranoid fantasies, ridiculous and grotesque imagery, and esoteric mathematical and scientific language.  The work won Pynchon the National Book Award, and many of its critics deem it a visionary, apocalyptic masterpiece.

Pynchon didn't publish his next book, Vineland, for seventeen years.  During that time, he grew to the stature of a mythical figure.  People said that he lived on the run, using false names wherever he went.  Some claimed that he had joined a band of Mexican rebel fighters. Others said that he and J. D. Salinger were one-in-the-same.  Near the end of the 1980s, some people speculated that he might be the notorious Unabomber.

Finally, in the late 1990s, an article in New York magazine set the record straight.  Pynchon was alive and well and living in New York City with his wife and son.  He wasn't hiding out in an underground bunker; he simply was avoiding publicity. 

Pynchon published his most recent novel, Mason and Dixon, in 1997 and has since written the liner notes for a rock band named Lotion and provided an introduction for a new edition of George Orwell's 1984.

In January 2004, he played himself on the animated TV show, The Simpsons, where his character appeared with a paper bag over his head.

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