Thomas Eugene “Tom” Robbins is an American author. His best-selling novels are serio-comic, often wildly poetic stories with a strong social and philosophical undercurrent, an irreverent bent, and scenes extrapolated from carefully researched bizarre facts. He is probably best known for his novel Even Cowgirls Get the Blues which was made into a movie in 1993 by Gus Van Sant and starring Uma Thurman, Lorraine Bracco and Keanu Reeves.
Robbins was born July 22, 1932, in Blowing Rock, North Carolina to George Thomas Robbins and Katherine Belle Robinson. He has two younger sisters (another died at age four) and both of his grandfathers were Southern Baptist preachers. The Robbins family resided in Blowing Rock before moving to Warsaw, Virginia in 1942. Robbins graduated in 1950 from 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 bahavior 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 a meteorologist in Korea, then two years in the Special Weather Intelligence unit of the Strategic Air Command in Nebrasks. He was discharged in 1957, returning to Richmond, Virginia where he was a fixture on the local bohemian scene, reading poetry at the Rhinoceros Coffee House. Later that year, Robbins enrolled at Richmond Professional Institute, a school of art, drama, and music, which later became Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU). He was editor of the college newspaper and worked nights on the sports desk of the daily Richmond Times-Dispatch. After graduating with honors from VCU in 1959 and indulging in some hitchhiking, Robbins joined the staff of the Times-Dispatch as a copy editor.
In 1962, Robbins moved to Seattle to seek a Master’s degree 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 the painter Jackson Pollock) he worked for the Seattle Times as an art critic. In 1965, he wrote a column on the arts for Seattle Magazine. Also during this time, he hosted a weekly “underground” radio show at non-commercial KRAB-FM. It was in 1967, while writing a review of the rock band The Doors, that Robbins says he found his literary voice. Soon thereafter, he moved to South Bend, Washington, where he wrote his first novel. In 1970, Robbins moved to La Conner, Washington. It was at his little house on Second Street (now remodeled and tripled in size) that he has written his subsequent nine books, although he resided for two years in the late 1990’s on the Swinomish Indian Reservation.
He was a friend of Terence McKenna, whose influence appears evident in a couple of his books. 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. Another close friend was Timothy Leary, and Robbins has said that one of the protagonists in Jitterbug Perfume (Wiggs Dannyboy) exhibited certain characteristics of Leary’s personality.
He spent three weeks at ceremonial sites in Mexico and Central America with mythologist Joseph Campbell, studied mythology in Greece and Sicily with the poet Robert Bly, and made a solo pilgrimage to Timbuktu.
Robbins has defended in print Indian mystic Osho (Bhagwan Shree Rajeesh), although he was never a follower.
He currently is on the advisory Board of the Marijuana Policy Project, a laureate of Seattle’s Rainier Club, and on the board of directors of 826 Seattle.
For eight years, Robbins was an enthusiastic participant in Seattle’s SPAM carving competition, serving as judge. He has also hosted an annual mayonnaise tasting, often with more than 20 international varieties, at his home in La Conner.
In the 1980s and early ’90s, Robbins regularly published articles and essays in Esquire magazine, and also contributed to Playboy, GQ, and Life.
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.
In 1997, Robbins won the Golden Umbrella award for contributions to the arts, presented annual by the Bumbershoot arts festival in Seattle. In 2000, Robbins was named one of the 100 Best Writers of the 20th Century by Writer’s Digest magazine. He has given readings from his work on four continents, performing at festivals in Australia and Mexico, and nightclubs in England and Germany. The legendary Italian critic Fernanda Pivano called Robbins “the most dangerous writer in the world.”
He has been married to Alexa D’Avalon since 1987. Robbins has three sons: Rip, Kirk and Fleetwood, all from previous marriages.
Robbins continues to live in La Conner with Alexa and their beloved little dog, Blini Tomato Titanium.
On the June 5, 2010, episode of the NPR radio program Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me!, Robbins joked, to audience laughter, “Well, I have discovered the fountain of youth. It’s Wikipedia. Because I’m actually 77 years old, but Wikipedia lists me as 74.”
Your favourite virtue?
The wisdom not to take one’s self too seriously.
Your favourite qualities in a man?
Daring, humor, and grace.
Your favourite qualities in a woman?
Independence, livliness, and warmth.
Your main characteristic?
What draws you most to your friends?
Their tolerance of my bad behavior.
Given the opportunity what would you most like to change?
Personally, my voice: I’d like to speak like Jeremy Irons. Generally, society’s tragic misunderstanding of LSD.
Who would you most like to take out for dinner?
Jane Goodall — and a couple of her chimps.
Your idea of happiness?
The afternoon I spent drinking champagne with three young actresses at a Paris hotel.
What is your favourite way of spending the day?
Drinking champagne with lively women after having first meditated and written several good pages.
Whose life other than yours would you most like to have lived?
Ikkyu “Crazy Cloud” Sojun (radical but enlightened 15th century Zen libertine/poet/monk).
Where would you most like to live?
In a cave behind a waterfall deep in the forest — but within a day’s walk of a good French restaurant.
Who is your favourite author?
Who is your favourite poet?
Rumi (13th century Sufi mystic).
Your favourite heros in fiction?
Gulley Jimson, Pippi Longstocking, and Tarzan.
Your favourite heroines in fiction?
Pippi Longstocking and Emma Peel.
Your favourite painters?
Henri Rousseau, Henri Matisse, and Andy Warhol.
Who is your favourite composer?
What is your favourite Film?
Truffaut’s “Jules et Jim.”
Your favourite food?
Your favourite drink?
Champagne with hurricane drops.
Who do you most admire?
Leonard Cohen and Arundhati Roy
What is your present state of mind?
For what fault have you most toleration?
Lying, but only if it’s entertaining.
Your favourite motto?
Joy in spite of everything.