Thomas Ruggles Pynchon, Jr. (born May 8, 1937) is an American novelist based in New York City, noted for his dense and complex works of fiction. Hailing from Long Island, Pynchon spent two years in the United States Navy and earned an English degree from Cornell University. After publishing several short stories in the late 1950s and early 1960s, he began composing the novels for which he is best known: V. (1963), The Crying of Lot 49 (1966), Gravity's Rainbow (1973), Vineland (1990), Mason & Dixon (1997), Against the Day (2006) and Inherent Vice (2009).
Pynchon (pronounced /ˈpinch-än/) is a MacArthur Fellow and a recipient of the National Book Award, and is regularly cited as a contender for the Nobel Prize in Literature. Both his fiction and non-fiction writings encompass a vast array of subject matter, styles and themes, including (but not limited to) the fields of history, science and mathematics. Pynchon is also known for his avoidance of personal publicity: very few photographs of him have ever been published, and rumours about his location and identity have been circulated since the 1960s.
After the publication and success of Gravity's Rainbow, interest mounted in finding out more about the identity of the author. At the 1974 National Book Award ceremony, the president of Viking Press, Tom Guinzberg, arranged for double-talking comedian "Professor" Irwin Corey to accept the prize on Pynchon's behalf (Royster 2005). Many of the assembled guests had no idea who Corey was, and, having never seen the author, they assumed that it was Pynchon himself on the stage delivering Corey's trademark torrent of rambling, pseudo-scholarly verbiage (Corey 1974). Towards the end of Corey's address a streaker ran through the hall, adding further to the confusion.
An article published in the Soho Weekly News claimed that Pynchon was in fact J. D. Salinger (Batchelor 1976). Pynchon's written response to this theory (reported in Tanner 1982) was simple: "Not bad. Keep trying."
Thereafter, the first piece to provide substantial information about Pynchon's personal life was a biographical account written by a former Cornell University friend, Jules Siegel, and published in Playboy magazine. In his article, Siegel reveals that Pynchon had a complex about his teeth and underwent extensive and painful reconstructive surgery, was nicknamed "Tom" at Cornell and attended Mass diligently, acted as best man at Siegel's wedding, and that he later also had an affair with Siegel's wife. Siegel recalls Pynchon saying he did attend some of Vladimir Nabokov's lectures at Cornell but that he could hardly make out what Nabokov was saying because of his thick Russian accent. Siegel also records Pynchon's comment that "[e]very weirdo in the world is on my wavelength", an observation borne out by the crankiness and zealotry which has attached itself to his name and work in subsequent years. (Siegel 1977)In the late 1980s, author Robert Clark Young prevailed upon his father, an employee of the California Department of Motor Vehicles, to look up Pynchon's driving record, using Pynchon's full name and known birth date. The results showed that Pynchon was living at the time in Aptos, California, and was driving a 1974 Datsun (Young 1992). The improperly-obtained cancelled license subsequently found its way into the hands of at least two academics publishing scholarly work on Pynchon.