This Day In Writing History
On July 22nd, 1936, the famous American novelist Tom Robbins was born in Blowing Rock, North Carolina. Both his grandfathers were Southern Baptist preachers. The family moved to Virginia in 1947. At the age of 16, Robbins studied journalism at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia, but he dropped out of college when his fraternity expelled him for disciplinary problems.
In 1954, Robbins was drafted into the military. He enlisted in the Air Force and served a two year tour of duty in Korea as a meteorologist. After his discharge, he returned to civilian life, settling in Richmond, Virginia. He became part of the local art scene and hung out with his fellow painters.
In 1957, Robbins enrolled in art school at Richmond Professional Institute, now known as Virginia Commonwealth University. While there, he became the editor of the campus newspaper and worked as a copy editor for the Richmond Times-Dispatch newspaper.
After art school, Tom Robbins spent a year hitchhiking his way around the country. He settled in New York City and became a poet. In 1961, he moved to San Francisco, then a year later, he moved to Seattle to get a Master's degree at the University Of Washington's School of Far Eastern Studies. Over the next five years, Robbins worked for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, first as a sports reporter, then as an arts reviewer.
In 1966, he wrote a column for Seattle Magazine and hosted a radio show on KRAB-FM, a non-commercial station in Seattle. The following year, Robbins went to a concert by legendary rock band The Doors, which was a life-changing experience for him. It was a major factor in his decision to move to La Conner, Washington, and write his first book.
Tom Robbins' first novel, Another Roadside Attraction, was published in 1971. It introduced his trademark writing style - a non-linear narrative filled with offbeat humor and scathing satire. It told the story of John Paul Ziller and his wife Amanda - a hippie guru - who open a combination hot dog stand and zoo called Captain Kendrick's Memorial Hot Dog Wildlife Preserve.
Other weird characters in the novel are a baboon named Mon Cul, a well educated fellow called Marx Marvelous, and L. Westminster "Plucky" Purcell, a football great and part time drug dealer who accidentally uncovers a secret order of monks who work as assassins for the Vatican. Plucky also uncovers a shocking secret dating back to the beginning of Christianity.
Robbins' next novel, Even Cowgirls Get The Blues (1976) featured a main character, Sissy Henshaw, who was born with an unusual birth defect - enormously large thumbs, which she uses to hitchhike around the country. In her travels, Sissy meets and becomes a model for the Countess, a lesbian feminine hygiene product tycoon.
The Countess introduces Sissy to her future husband, a Mohawk Indian named Julian Gitche. Sissy also meets sexually open cowgirl Bonanza Jellybean, and an escapee from a U.S. government Japanese internment camp with the erroneous nickname "The Chink."
In 1993, director Gus Van Sant - a friend of Tom Robbins - adapted Even Cowgirls Get The Blues as a feature film starring Uma Thurman as Sissy Henshaw, John Hurt as the Countess, Rain Phoenix as Bonanza Jellybean, Keanu Reeves as Julian Gitche, and Pat Morita as The Chink.
Tom Robbins has written ten novels so far, including memorable works such as Still Life with Woodpecker (1980) and Half Asleep in Frog Pajamas (1994). His latest novel, B is for Beer, was published in April of 2009.
B is for Beer is classic Robbins. Dubbed "a children's book for grown-ups" and "a grown-up book for children," it's presented in the form of a children's novel. It tells the story of six-year-old Gracie Perkel, who is fascinated by beer, her father's favorite beverage, which she describes as "the stuff that's yellow and looks like pee-pee."
Gracie turns to her favorite uncle, beer-guzzling hippie Uncle Moe, for help. He leads her on a quest to find out all there is to know about beer, then leaves her in the lurch, running off with a woman - a podiatrist he's fallen in love with. Undaunted, Gracie drinks her first beer, throws up, passes out, and is visited by the Beer Fairy, who teaches her all about the history and production of beer.
In a recent interview, Tom Robbins claimed that he wrote B is for Beer as a satirical ode to the brewed beverage. "Kids are constantly exposed to beer," he said. "it's everywhere; yet, aside from wagging a warning finger and growling - true enough as it goes - 'beer is for grownups,' how many parents actually engage their youngsters on the subject? As a topic for detailed family discussion, it's generally as taboo as sex."
As for his next novel, Robbins said, "I've decided to take advantage of outsourcing. My next novel will be written by a couple of guys in Bangalore."
Quote Of The Day
"There is a similarity between juggling and composing on the typewriter. The trick is, when you spill something, make it look like a part of the act." - Tom Robbins
Today's video features Tom Robbins discussing his most recent novel, B is for Beer, at a book signing at Barnes & Noble. Enjoy!