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Martin Paul Eve

Professor of Literature, Technology and Publishing at Birkbeck, University of London

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Pynchon biography sleuth, Albert Rolls, sent me information today of the only known inscribed Pynchon book complete with a presentation letter.

Information on this item comes courtesy of an advertisement on a bookseller's site a couple of years ago:

Mason & Dixon NY: Henry Holt, (1997). Hardbound in dust jacket. First edition. Presentation copy inscribed by Pynchon to William Plumley, head of the University of Charleston award committee that chose Pynchon for their Appalachian Medallion: "For William Plumley, With appreciation and thanks. Thomas Pynchon." TOGETHER WITH a Typed Letter Signed from Pynchon declining the award and presenting the book. One quarto page on Mason and Dixon letterhead dated June 23, 1997, in full:

"Dear Mr. Plumley, Regretfully, I must decline the Appalachian Medallion. Rationally or otherwise, I have a history of trying to avoid, whenever possible, all such awards. I am grateful to you for the chance to do so ahead of time, as well as for the honor, of course, of even being thought of on the same list as Eudora Welty and Robert Penn Warren. I do, however, hope that you will accept, with my thanks, the copy of Mason and Dixon enclosed. Part of the novel is set in Appalachia---I've tried in it to remain true to the spirit of the region and the people, whom I continue to admire and respect. Yours truly, Thomas Pynchon."

It goes without saying that books signed by Pynchon seldom surface on the market and autograph material by him is among the most difficult of any living author. There have been a few known instances where he has donated a signed book to a charity auction, but genuine presentation copies of his books are truly rare, and rarer still is Pynchon correspondence — and this letter is especially nice. Along with the literary references and mention of his own book, Pynchon explains his ethos of anonymity that has caused him to studiously avoid awards, interviews, and photographs throughout his career. A search of auction records shows no evidence of a Pynchon letter ever having appeared at auction. A superb pair of Pynchon items, the only inscribed book with a presentation letter that we know of.

While the letter is the most interesting item here, it must be stated that the authenticity has not been verified and the "and" rather than the ampersand in the title raises suspicions, but that could be the bookseller's inaccurate transcription. There are actually two institutions that give out an Appalachian Medallion, the one not involved here responded but the one with which William Plumley, who died before this book hit the market, worked did not. The book, which was being offered for $30,000, appears to have been sold. If others have better luck verifying its authenticity, we would be very grateful if you would please email either Albert or me.

Featured image by jonhoward under a CC-BY-ND license.