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Tom Robbins

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Tom Robbins
Tom Robbins, 2005
Tom Robbins, 2005
BornThomas Eugene Robbins
(1932-07-22) July 22, 1932 (age 91)
Blowing Rock, North Carolina, U.S.
  • Novelist
  • short story writer
  • essayist

Thomas Eugene Robbins (born July 22, 1932)[1] is an American novelist. His most notable works are "seriocomedies" (also known as "comedy drama").[2] Tom Robbins has lived in La Conner, Washington since 1970, where he has written nine books.[3] His 1976 novel Even Cowgirls Get the Blues was adapted into the 1993 film version by Gus Van Sant.[4] His latest work, published in 2014, is Tibetan Peach Pie, which is a self-declared "un-memoir".

Early life[edit]

Robbins was born on July 22, 1932, in Blowing Rock, North Carolina, to George Thomas Robbins and Katherine Belle Robinson. Both of his grandfathers were Baptist preachers. The Robbins family resided in Blowing Rock before moving to Warsaw, Virginia, when the author was still a young boy.[5] In adulthood, Robbins has described his young self as a "hillbilly".[6]

Robbins attended Warsaw High School (class of 1949) and Hargrave Military Academy in Chatham, Virginia, where he won the Senior Essay Medal. The following year he enrolled at Washington and Lee University to major in journalism, leaving at the end of his sophomore year after being disciplined by his fraternity for bad behavior and failing to earn a letter in basketball.

In 1953, he enlisted in the Air Force after receiving his draft notice, spending a year as a meteorologist in Korea, followed by two years in the Special Weather Intelligence unit of the Strategic Air Command in Nebraska. He was discharged in 1957 and returned to Richmond, Virginia, where his poetry readings at the Rhinoceros Coffee House led to a reputation among the local bohemian scene.

Early media work[edit]

In late 1957, Robbins enrolled at Richmond Professional Institute (RPI), a school of art, drama, and music, which later became Virginia Commonwealth University. He served as an editor and columnist for the college newspaper, Proscript, from 1958 to 1959.[7] He also worked nights on the sports desk of the daily Richmond Times-Dispatch.[5] After graduating with honors from RPI in 1959 and indulging in some hitchhiking, Robbins joined the staff of the Times-Dispatch as a copy editor.

A 1967 ad for Robbins's KRAB radio show, Notes From The Underground, drawn by Walt Crowley.

In 1962, Robbins moved to Seattle to seek an M.A. at the Far East Institute of the University of Washington. During the next five years in Seattle (minus a year spent in New York City researching a book on Jackson Pollock) he worked for the Seattle Times as an art critic.[8] In 1965, he wrote a column on the arts for Seattle Magazine as well as occasionally for Art in America and Artforum.[9] Also during this time, he hosted a weekly alternative radio show, Notes from the Underground, at non-commercial KRAB-FM, Seattle.[10] It was in 1967, while writing a review of the rock band The Doors, that Robbins says he found his literary voice.[11] While working on his first novel, Robbins worked the weekend copy desk of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.[12] Robbins would remain in Seattle, on and off, for the following forty years.[5][13]

Writing career[edit]

In 1966, Robbins was contacted and then met with Doubleday's West Coast Editor, Luthor Nichols, who asked Robbins about writing a book on Northwest art. Instead Robbins told Nichols he wanted to write a novel and pitched the idea of what was to become Another Roadside Attraction.[14]

In 1967, Robbins moved to South Bend, Washington, where he wrote his first novel. In 1970, Robbins moved to La Conner, Washington, and it was at his home on Second Street that he subsequently authored nine books (although, in the late 1990s, he spent two years living on the Swinomish Indian reservation). In the 1980s and early 1990s, Robbins regularly published articles and essays in Esquire magazine,[15][16][17] and also contributed to Playboy, The New York Times,[18] and GQ.[19]

When Robbins began writing Jitterbug Perfume in 1982, he made a contract with editor Alan Rinzler.[20] As he had a large following, he had the leverage to stipulate a contract with Rinzler where they would accompany Robbins on three holiday trips to resorts Robbins would choose where he could discuss the work-in-progress novel, which Rinzler later discovered was Jitterbug Perfume.[20] Alan Rinzler later wrote this on the topic of editing for Robbins:

Tom would read out loud from his work in progress, and I would comment. Just a few pages at a time. He was a real southern gentleman, and welcomed intellectual discourse about his theme, characters, and intentions, from the inside. He took the process of conception, research, trial and error, moving things around, changing voices and pitch very seriously, wrote slowly and carefully, revised constantly, developing, refining and evolving this novel over the course of about two years.[20]

Michael Dare described Robbins' writing style in the following manner: "When he starts a novel, it works like this. First he writes a sentence. Then he rewrites it again and again, examining each word, making sure of its perfection, finely honing each phrase until it reverberates with the subtle texture of the infinite. Sometimes it takes hours. Sometimes an entire day is devoted to one sentence, which gets marked on and expanded upon in every possible direction until he is satisfied. Then, and only then, does he add a period".[21] When Robbins was asked to explain his "gift" for storytelling in 2002, he replied:

I'm descended from a long line of preachers and policemen. Now, it's common knowledge that cops are congenital liars, and evangelists spend their lives telling fantastic tales in such a way as to convince otherwise rational people that they're factual. So, I guess I come by my narrative inclinations naturally.[22]

Over the course of his writing career, Robbins has given readings on four continents, in addition to the performances that he has delivered at festivals from Seattle to San Miguel de Allende.[3][23] Robbins also read at Bumbershoot in 2014.[24]

Awards and praise[edit]

In 1997, Robbins won the Bumbershoot Golden Umbrella Award for Lifetime Achievement in the arts that is presented annually by the Bumbershoot arts festival in Seattle.[25]

In 2000, Robbins was named one of the 100 Best Writers of the 20th Century by Writer's Digest magazine, while the legendary Italian critic Fernanda Pivano called Robbins "the most dangerous writer in the world".

In October 2012, Robbins received the 2012 Literary Lifetime Achievement Award from the Library of Virginia.[26]

In 2015, Robbins was awarded the Willamette Writers' Lifetime Achievement Award and received the award at the Gala Awards Event at the Willamette Writers Conference on August 8, 2015.

On September 2, 2023, a "King for a Day" gala and parade was held in Robbin's honor in his home city of La Conner, Washington. The event also raised money for a children's art program at the local library.[27][28]

Other activities[edit]

During his brief stint in New York in 1965 Robbins joined the New York Filmmakers' Cinematheque [de].[29]

In the mid-sixties, as a member of the Seattle Arts scene, Robbins reviewed art for several publications in Seattle, wrote essays for museum catalogs, organized gallery exhibits, and was the self-described ringleader in a "boisterous neo-Dada gang of guerilla artists, the Shazam Society".[30][31]

Robbins has defended, in print, Indian mystic Osho, although he was never a follower.[32] Robbins spent three weeks at ceremonial sites in Mexico and Central America with mythologist Joseph Campbell, and studied mythology in Greece and Sicily with the poet Robert Bly. Robbins also traveled to Timbuktu.[13]

As of 2013, Robbins is a member of the Marijuana Policy Project's advisory board, alongside numerous other notable figures such as Jack Black, Ani DiFranco, Tommy Chong, and Jello Biafra;[33] he has been honoured at the Laureate Dinner of Seattle's Rainier Club that has also recognized other local figures, such as Charles Johnson, Stephen Wadsworth, Timothy Egan and August Wilson;[34] and he sits on the board of directors of The Greater Seattle Bureau of Fearless Ideas (formerly 826 Seattle), "a nonprofit writing and tutoring center dedicated to helping youth, ages six to 18, improve their creative and expository writing skills, and to helping teachers inspire their students to write."[35][36]

Madame Zoe, a Richmond psychic and palm reader who once lived in Richmond's South Side, was fictionalized in Robbins' Even Cowgirls Get the Blues. In 2016 Richmond artists Noah Scalin and Thea Duskin recreated her bedroom as an installation in the art gallery at Chop Suey Books in Carytown in Richmond.[37]

The novel Even Cowgirls Get the Blues was adapted into a movie in 1993 by Gus Van Sant and stars Uma Thurman, Lorraine Bracco, and Keanu Reeves.[38]

Personal life[edit]

Robbins was a friend of Terence McKenna, whose influence appears evident in a couple of his books.[39] A main character (Larry Diamond) in Half Asleep in Frog Pajamas advocates a theory similar to those of McKenna, involving the history and cultural influences of psychedelic plants. Robbins also spent time with Timothy Leary and the author has said that one of the protagonists in Jitterbug Perfume (Wiggs Dannyboy) exhibited certain characteristics of Leary's personality; Robbins has acknowledged using LSD with Leary.[40]

He is friends with Gus Van Sant, and performed the voice-over narration in Van Sant's film adaptation of Even Cowgirls Get the Blues. He has been friends with directors Robert Altman and Alan Rudolph, as well, and has had small speaking parts in five feature films.[41]

Partial bibliography[edit]

Robbins has written eight novels since 1971. He has also written numerous short stories and essays, mostly collected in the volume Wild Ducks Flying Backward, and one novella, B Is for Beer.[42]






  1. ^ See Library of Congress records (2012) and Oxford companion to American literature (1995). The discrepancy between Robbins' year of birth appearing in the Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data results from previous inaccurate reporting and the LoC rule prohibiting correction of CIP data. Robbins claims he was born in 1932 (see Tibetan Peach Pie: A True Account of an Imaginative Life, 2014 or Conversations With Tom Robbins, 2011). See Thomas Robbins in the 1940 US census living in Blowing Rock, North Carolina.
  2. ^ FamousAuthors.org (2012). "Tom Robbins". Famous Authors. FamousAuthors.org. Retrieved 15 August 2012.
  3. ^ a b "Northwest Prime Time". northwestprimetime.com. Retrieved 2022-04-05.
  4. ^ Sant, Gus Van (1994-05-20), Even Cowgirls Get the Blues (Comedy, Drama, Romance), New Line Cinema, Fourth Vision, retrieved 2022-04-05
  5. ^ a b c Tracy Johnson (10 March 2000). "A look at author Tom Robbins". CNN. Retrieved 27 April 2013.
  6. ^ Linda L. Richards. "Tom Robbins". January Magazine. January Magazine. Retrieved 27 April 2013.
  7. ^ "RPI Student Newspapers | VCU Libraries Digital Collections". digital.library.vcu.edu. Retrieved 2024-05-28.
  8. ^ Robbins, Tom (2014). Tibetan peach pie: a true account of an imaginative life (First ed.). HarperCollins Publishers. pp. 167–173. ISBN 9780062267405.
  9. ^ Robbins, Tom (2014). Tibetan peach pie: a true account of an imaginative life (First ed.). HarperCollins Publishers. p. 184. ISBN 9780062267405.
  10. ^ "KRAB-FM, Seattle - Programs: Notes From The Underground, with Tom Robbins". www.krabarchive.com. Retrieved 2022-03-25.
  11. ^ "The Doors And What Thay Did To Me". doorsmania.narod.ru. Retrieved 2022-03-23.
  12. ^ Robbins, Tom (2014). Tibetan peach pie: a true account of an imaginative life (First ed.). HarperCollins Publishers. p. 249. ISBN 9780062267405.
  13. ^ a b Robbins, Tom (2014). Tibetan peach pie: a true account of an imaginative life (First ed.). HarperCollins Publishers. ISBN 9780062267405.
  14. ^ Robbins, Tom (2014). Tibetan peach pie: a true account of an imaginative life (First ed.). HarperCollins Publishers. pp. 230–232. ISBN 9780062267405.
  15. ^ "TOM ROBBINS, writing in Esquire magazine about a C..." Legacy Tobacco Documents Library. The Regents of the University of California. 2013. Retrieved 27 April 2013.
  16. ^ "U-MAGAZINE - You Gotta Have Soul - by Tom Robbins by Tom Robbins | UNIVERSAL METROPOLIS". 2016-03-04. Archived from the original on 2016-03-04. Retrieved 2022-03-09.
  17. ^ "Esquire Magazine June 1996: My Favorite Things - Vollmann, William; Pynchon, Thomas; Robbins, Tom; Robbins, Harold; et. al". 2016-03-03. Archived from the original on 3 March 2016. Retrieved 2022-03-09.
  18. ^ "LA Times Magazine October 2005: Zen-like wisdom from Tom Robbins". www.latimes.com. 2016-03-03. Retrieved 2022-03-09.
  19. ^ "Tom Robbins' bold imagination soars in 'Wild Ducks'". Chicago Tribune. October 2005. Archived from the original on 2015-10-25. Retrieved 9 March 2022.
  20. ^ a b c "Tom Robbins". alanrinzler.com. Retrieved 2022-04-01.
  21. ^ Michael Dare (2002). "Emulsional Problems: How to Write Like Tom Robbins". Dareland. Michael Dare. Archived from the original on 30 July 2012. Retrieved 15 August 2012.
  22. ^ "THE GREEN MAN: TOM ROBBINS". High Times. Archived from the original on 6 March 2016. Retrieved 2022-03-09.
  23. ^ "San Miguel Authors' Sala in San Miguel de Allende". 2008-07-23. Archived from the original on 23 July 2008. Retrieved 2022-04-01.
  24. ^ "Bumbershoot - Day 2 - Arsenal, The Head and the Heart, Tom Robbins". NorthWest Music Scene. 2014-09-02. Retrieved 2022-04-01.
  25. ^ Robbins, Tom (2006-10-09). "Here in Geoduck Junction". Seattle Weekly. Retrieved 2022-03-09.
  26. ^ "Tom Robbins: Author reflects on writing, Richmond and the many decades since he left | Richmond Latest News | richmond.com". 2021-04-14. Archived from the original on 2021-04-14. Retrieved 2022-03-09.
  27. ^ "King for a day, La Conner celebrates Tom Robbins". La Conner Weekly News. Retrieved 2024-03-05.
  28. ^ Martin, Christian (2023-08-24). "Author Tom Robbins' artistic legacy to be celebrated | Cascadia Daily News". www.cascadiadaily.com. Retrieved 2024-03-05.
  29. ^ Robbins, Tom (2014). Tibetan peach pie: a true account of an imaginative life (First ed.). HarperCollins Publishers. p. 219. ISBN 9780062267405.
  30. ^ Marks, Ben. "Rainy Day Psychedelia: Seattle's 1960s Poster Scene About To Get Its Day in the Sun". Collectors Weekly. Collectors Weekly. Retrieved 23 August 2015.
  31. ^ Robbins, Tom (2014). Tibetan peach pie: a true account of an imaginative life (First ed.). HarperCollins Publishers. pp. 234–235. ISBN 9780062267405.
  32. ^ "Tom Robbins essay on Shree Bhagwan Rajneesh also known as Osho | Osho News". 2013-08-07. Retrieved 2022-03-09.
  33. ^ "MPP ADVISORY BOARD". Marijuana Policy Project. Marijuana Policy Project. 2013. Archived from the original on 23 February 2012. Retrieved 27 April 2013.
  34. ^ "The Rainier Club - Laureate Nominations" (PDF). Rainier Club. 2019. Retrieved 9 March 2022.
  35. ^ "Our Staff & Leadership". 826 Seattle. 826 Seattle. 2013. Archived from the original on 5 November 2014. Retrieved 27 April 2013.
  36. ^ "About 826". 826 Seattle. 826 Seattle. 2013. Archived from the original on 18 October 2014. Retrieved 27 April 2013.
  37. ^ Lord, Jo (April 28, 2016). "Artists collaborate on visual tribute to Richmond Psychic". Richmond, Virginia: Richmond Times-Dispatch. p. F6.
  38. ^ Even Cowgirls Get the Blues - Original Theatrical Trailer, retrieved 2022-03-09
  39. ^ James Kent (2 December 2003). "Terence McKenna Interview, Part 1". Trip. Trip. Retrieved 26 August 2012.
  40. ^ Richard Luck (20 March 2011). "Tom Robbins on Acid, Elvis and Uma Thurman". Sabotage Times. Sabotage Times. Retrieved 26 August 2012.
  41. ^ "Tom Robbins". IMDb. Retrieved 2022-03-29.
  42. ^ Mike Songster; Matt Cooperberg; Lorin Hawley (24 September 1996). "THE COMPLETE(?) TOM ROBBINS BIBLIOGRAPHY". Le AFTRLife: Une aire de jeux Tom Robbins. Pussy Galore. Archived from the original on 6 August 2012. Retrieved 15 August 2012.


  • "Tom Robbins". Encyclopædia Britannica Online Academic Edition. 2012. Retrieved January 28, 2012.
  • Hart, James D.; Phillip W. Leininger (1995). "Robbins, Tom". The Oxford Companion to American Literature. Encyclopedia.com. Retrieved June 5, 2010.
  • Tom Robbins Papers, Collection Number M 90, Special Collections and Archives, James Branch Cabell Library, Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, Va

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

Interviews and articles

Other websites[edit]