Who’s Writing Whose Writing?

Gaddis, Green, Pynchon, and Tinasky

Alan Westrope
November 2000

(updated March 2001)

10 March 1955: William Gaddis’s The Recognitions is published. Along with art forgery and counterfeiting, a major theme of the novel is mistaken identity—sometimes resulting from criminal impersonation, sometimes from wickedly funny accidents. Sales and reviews (one of which identifies the author as “William Gibson”) are dismal.

Spring 1957: Christopher Carlisle Reid walks out of his Manhattan job as an actuary for Metropolitan Life Insurance, throws his tie and dress shirt into the fountain in Madison Square, then goes home and throws his razor, clock and mirror out the window. He soon changes his name to Jack Green (from a horse-racing tip sheet, Jack’s Little Green Card) and sets to work typing, mimeographing and distributing newspaper out of a storefront at 225 East 5th Street.

4 December 1957: newspaper no. 1, in which Green asserts that The Recognitions is “a great work of art, the best novel ever written in America,” is published.

1959: William Gaddis and Jack Green meet.

24 February 1962: newspaper no. 12 is published, containing the first installment of “Fire the Bastards!” Green’s scathing article excoriates the original reviewers of The Recognitions, documenting factual and interpretive errors that led to the novel’s neglect. Gaddis writes to his editor, Aaron Asher: “Here at last—a la revanche!”

29 March 1962: A full-page ad in the Village Voice, written and paid for by Green, urges readers to buy the new Meridian paperback edition of The Recognitions. Some people suspect that Gaddis really paid for the ad, while others think Jack Green is just a pseudonym for Gaddis.

25 August 1962: newspaper no. 13 is published, featuring the second installment of “Fire the Bastards!”

10 November 1962: The concluding installment of “Fire the Bastards!” appears in newspaper no. 14.

14 December 1962: Thomas Hawkins, a postal worker and beat poet in San Francisco, comes across a copy of newspaper no. 12 in Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s City Lights Bookstore. Hawkins, a great admirer of The Recognitions, concludes that Green is really William Gaddis. Later that day he mails a letter to Green, asking if he has “taken notice of the velikovskyan catastrophism in the recognitions” in an attempt to determine whether Green is actually Gaddis. Green returns the letter with the response “No” written in red pencil.

1963: Hawkins publishes Eve, The Common Muse of Henry Miller & Lawrence Durrell, setting forth, among other theories, his belief that Green and Gaddis are the same person.

March 1963: Thomas Pynchon’s first novel, V., is published. Some readers suspect that Pynchon is actually William Gaddis, and Pynchon’s legendary reclusiveness fuels the theory. (Neither man allows his photograph to appear on the dust jackets of his novels.)

1975: Green is immortalized on p. 188 of Gaddis’s novel J R: “he recovered a torn half of Jack’s Little Green Card, squares bearing Place ten number three sixth race”

1981: Steven Moore writes to Green, requesting permission to reprint “Fire the Bastards!” as part of an anthology of Gaddis criticism. Green refuses. Moore writes back, whereupon Green accuses him of “barefaced impudence” and forbids further contact “on this or any other subject.” (Against his wishes, Green’s invective will be reprinted as a book by Dalkey Archive Press in 1992, with an introduction by Moore.)

February 1983: Steven Moore’s “‘Parallel, Not Series’: Thomas Pynchon and William Gaddis.” appears in Pynchon Notes 11, pp. 6-26, observing, “The relation between Gaddis and Pynchon seems so close that once it was even rumored that Thomas Pynchon was merely a pseudonym for Gaddis!”

21 April 1983: The first letter signed by Wanda Tinasky appears in the Mendocino Commentary.

25 January 1984: Letters signed by Tinasky begin appearing in the Anderson Valley Advertiser, to which the the author switches allegiance after being chastised by the Commentary for denigrating local poets.

1984: Steven Moore and John Kuehl publish In Recognition of William Gaddis, their critical anthology, and dedicate it to Jack Green. At their request, Gaddis draws a self-portrait for the cover, depicting himself wearing a suit and holding a highball glass—but without a head. Gaddis later informs Moore that Green interpreted the dedication as a deliberate insult, and Green asks Kuehl to remove the dedication in future printings.

21 August 1985: A Tinasky letter to the AVA states, “The novels of William Gaddis and Thomas Pynchon were written by the same person.”

Summer 1986: A Tinasky letter to Beth Bosk, editor of the New Settler Interview, observes that Jack Green, “a self-published author of ¼ century ago [ . . . ] regarded by Those Who Know Best as the most interesting writer in America at that time [ . . . ] did pretty well in the auctorial line with novels published commercially under the names of William Gaddis & Thomas Pynchon.”

8 October 1986: A remark in a Tinasky letter to the AVA—“Faggot, from the Greek, phalein, to eat”—prompts a self-correction in her/his next letter (15 October): “the Greek ‘to eat’ is phagein, not phalein.” Cf. The Recognitions, pp. 593-4:

Near him, someone obligingly derived faggot from the Greek phagein. —Phag-, phago-, -phagous, -phagy, -phagia . . . the voice whined. —It means to eat.

31 August 1988: The last Tinasky letter, except for spurious “copycat” letters, appears in the AVA.

September 1988: Thomas Hawkins fatally bludgeons his wife Kathy, then mourns over her corpse for several days in their home on Beal Lane, just north of Fort Bragg in Mendocino County. On September 23 he sets the house on fire and drives Kathy’s car over a 90-foot cliff to his death.

21 March 1990: AVA publisher Bruce Anderson prints an announcement in his paper: “SUSPICIONS CONFIRMED. The justly famous American novelist, Thomas Pynchon, is almost certainly the pseudonymous comic letter writer, Wanda Tinasky.” Plans to publish the letters in book form slowly take shape.

14 June 1995: Thomas Pynchon’s wife and literary agent, Melanie Jackson, writes to the team preparing the Tinasky letters for publication: “I have conferred with the author and his editors and publishers, and no one can see any resemblance between his work and any of these letters [ . . . ] Thomas Pynchon’s name cannot be associated with your project in any way.”

May 1996: The Letters of Wanda Tinasky is published, on the premise that Thomas Pynchon almost certainly wrote the letters. Steven Moore’s Foreword begins, “Well, if it ain’t Pynchon, it’s someone who has him down cold: his inimitable literary style, his deep but lightly worn erudition [ . . . ]” (An “inimitable literary style” would seem to preclude an imitator “who has him down cold,” no?) The scholarly journal Pynchon Notes provides its readers with instructions for ordering the book from a post office box in Oregon.

October 1996: The book’s editor, TR Factor, sends copies of the Letters, back issues of the AVA, and lots of Pynchon material to Don Foster, who in February had identified Joe Klein as the author of Primary Colors, asking him to corroborate Pynchon’s authorship. Foster remains unconvinced, and other duties limit the amount of time he can devote to the investigation.

1997: Thomas Pynchon makes a rare public statement, telephoning CNN to deny authoring the letters.

September 1998: Don Foster’s sleuthing leads him to the woman who purchased the Hawkins property after the couple’s deaths. Untouched by the house fire is the shed where Hawkins did his writing, containing an Underwood typewriter and lots of correspondence and news clippings about the life and work of Thomas Hawkins, including the 1962 letter that Jack Green returned. She sends the much of the material to Foster, and it confirms his suspicion that Hawkins, not Pynchon, wrote the bulk of the Tinasky letters. On September 12, Foster faxes the results of his investigation to Melanie Jackson, and soon he receives a thank-you note typed and signed by Thomas Pynchon.

October 2000: Don Foster’s Author Unknown: On the Trail of Anonymous is published by Henry Holt and Company. A chapter is devoted to the Tinasky letters, containing many more details corroborating Hawkins as author than time and copyright laws permit me to include here. For an excellent synopsis, see Alexander Cockburn’s review (scroll down to the heading “Wanda: The Truth”).

December 2000: After reading Foster’s book, Steven Moore contacts him with a minor correction: Jack Green’s real name, as it was reported to Moore by William Gaddis. Foster responds that he will make the correction in future printings of his book (it’s already been incorporated into this document).

February 2001: The Tinasky website at America Online (http://members.aol.com/tinasky/), which contained instructions for ordering the book, the Foreword, and some ancillary material, ceases to exist.

Postscript: William Gaddis, who passed away in December 1998, looks on and chuckles: “Yes, thank God there was the gold to forge!

contact Alan Westrope via W.A.S.T.E. William Gaddis website