July 22, 1936, the residents of Blowing Rock, North Carolina, witnessed an
extraordinary event--the birth of novelist Tom
Robbins. Of course, he wasn't a novelist then, and the event didn't
seem all that extraordinary at the time. And, while we're at it, it
wasn't such a hot day in Blowing Rock after all.
Nevertheless, Robbins, who is best known for
his wildly eccentric novels, Even Cowgirls Get the
Blues (1976), Half Asleep in Frog Pajamas (1994), and Villa
Incognito (2003), taught himself to read when he was five years old.
Around the same time, he began dictating stories to his mother, a
Sunday School teacher and a nurse who wrote children's stories for religious
magazines. One of
the stories he told her was about a pilot who crashes on a desert island and discovers a
brown cow with yellow spots. Robbins recently said, "I wouldn't find that
story out of place in what I'm doing now, and so I guess I haven't changed
all that much."
attended Washington and Lee University in Virginia for two years, but he was kicked out
of his fraternity for throwing biscuits at the house mother. In 1956,
after attending several more colleges, he went to New York to become a
Beat poet and instead received his draft notice. The following year,
he began a three-year hitch in the Air Force. He was stationed in the
Far East, working as a meteorologist in Korea. While in Tokyo, he sat
in on courses in Japanese culture and aesthetics.
When he returned home, he decided to
hitchhike across the country, stopping off for stints as a copy editor at
three newspapers--the Richmond Times-Dispatch, the Seattle Times
(where he was also art critic), and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.
In 1963, Robbins began experimenting with the psychedelic drug, LSD. The following
year, he moved to New York's Greenwich Village, where he met Timothy Leary
and marched in a protest with Allen Ginsberg to legalize marijuana. He began
his first novel about a man who discovers the body of Christ in the Roman
catacombs and brings it back to the state of Washington, where he lives with
his friends at a roadside zoo and hot dog stand. That story became
Another Roadside Attraction, which was published in 1971.
Although Another Roadside Attraction didn't sell well at first,
it came out in paperback, sales gradually increased. Word of mouth picked up; and, by the late
Seventies, the book had become something of a cult classic, selling more than 700,000
copies. Most of his readers, in their teens and twenties,
couldn't afford to pay $15 or $20 for a novel;
so his next novels came out simultaneously in hardback and paperback,
and Robbins became known as the king of the "paperback literati."
Another Roadside Attraction was followed by Even Cowgirls Get the
Blues (1974) and Still Life with Woodpecker (1980).
Ridge had become as quiet and inanimate as the geology book that might
describe its formations. Indian summer, the ham, was taking yet
another curtain call, and the hills, warmed into an expansive mood, heaped
bouquets of asters at its feet. Goldenrod, too. And butterfly
weed. Giant sunflowers, like junkie scarecrows on the nod, dozed in
one spot with their dry heads drooped upon their breastbones. Their
lives extended another day, flies buzzed everything within their range,
monotonously eulogizing themselves, like the patriots who persist in
praising the glory of a culture long after it is decadent and doomed. -
from Even Cowgirls Get the Blues
Robbins, who once said, "Humanity has advanced, when it has advanced, not because it
has been sober, responsible, and cautious, but because it has been playful,
rebellious, and immature," currently lives and writes in his home in rural
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