Who is Tom Robbins?

Niki Foster
Niki Foster

Tom Robbins is an American novelist known for his complex, surreal, and well-researched books. He has only written a handful of novels since his career began in the 1970s, but all of them are highly acclaimed and carefully crafted. His style is characterized by precise, if bizarre, word choice and by themes involving social commentary and enhanced states of consciousness, be it through drugs, mysticism, or religion. Tom Robbins has also produced a collection of his shorter works, Wild Ducks Flying Backward, published in 2005. His second novel, Even Cowgirls Get the Blues (1976), was adapted into a film by Gus Van Sant and starring Uma Thurman in 1996.

Woman standing behind a stack of books
Woman standing behind a stack of books

Tom Robbins was born Thomas Eugene Robbins on 22 July 1936 in Blowing Rock, North Carolina. He began studying journalism at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia in 1954, but left shortly afterwards due to disciplinary problems. Robbins relocated to New York City, where he hoped to start a career as a poet. He joined the Air Force in 1957 and served for three years in Korea.

In 1960, after returning to the United States, Tom Robbins again tried his hand at formal schooling, attending the Richmond Professional Institute - now the Virginia Commonwealth University - in Richmond, Virginia. He studied art and served as the editor of his campus paper. Robbins also secured a job as copy editor for a local paper, the Richmond Times-Dispatch, during his university years. After earning his undergraduate degree, Tom Robbins entered a Masters program at the School of Far Eastern Studies of the University of Washington in Seattle, where he continued to work for local newspapers.

Tom Robbins moved to LaConner, Washington, where he has lived ever since, in 1970 and began his career as a novelist, publishing his first book, Another Roadside Attraction in 1971. He has steadily, if slowly, produced brilliant novels ever since. He claims to write in longhand, composing about 500 words a day, and to have no plan for his novels while writing them, but to focus instead on each sentence and let the larger work take shape on its own. After completing each novel, Robbins takes a year off to travel. In 1997, Robbins won the Golden Umbrella award at Bumbershoot, an annual music and arts festival held in Seattle.

One of Robbins' trademarks is opening each novel with an extremely improbable sentence, which later comes to make sense in the context of the larger work. For example, Skinny Legs and All (1990), begins, "It was a bright, defrosted, pussy willow day at the onset of spring, and the newlyweds were driving cross-country in a large roast turkey." Tom Robbins used a very unusual device in Half-Asleep in Frog Pajamas (1994), writing the entire book in the second person. Robbins' sense of humor and creative dexterity with language is evident in nearly every sentence of his books, and for his fans, each of his novels is worth the wait of three years or more.

Niki Foster
Niki Foster

In addition to her role as a wiseGEEK editor, Niki enjoys educating herself about interesting and unusual topics in order to get ideas for her own articles. She is a graduate of UCLA, where she majored in Linguistics and Anthropology.

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