In the mid-80s, when Thomas Pynchon was in Northern California writing "Vineland" and parts of "Mason & Dixon," scores of letters-to-the-editor appeared in the Mendocino County press signed "Wanda Tinasky." Nearly all the letters were addressed to Bruce Anderson, editor and publisher of the Anderson Valley Advertiser, whom Wanda described as "...an old-fashioned masochistic horsewhippable editor..." Wanda's letters were funny, highly and wittily referenced, and controversial; after five and a half years, Wanda disappeared as enigmatically as she had arrived, with no one discovering her identity. Was Thomas Pynchon Wanda Tinasky? There is a rather large body of educators, scholars and other Pynchonophiles who believe that she may very well have been he. This book does not set out to prove anything. What it does do is give the reader plenty to ponder in the remarkable numbers of coincidences between Tinasky and Pynchon. There are nearly 500 annotations to the letters: clues abound. The second half of the book consists of other letter-writers during that period, several of whom Wanda crossed swords with, and editorials/articles by Anderson: an inside look at life in Mendocino County, California.
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This should be titled "Prodcomments" because I produced this book, not authored it. The identity of the author of The Letters of Wanda Tinasky has not yet been revealed. Is it is or is it ain't Thomas Pynchon? Stay tuned. Meanwhile, in the Preface I wrote, "Much of Pynchon's stuff is built around paranoia, among the symptoms of which is the feeling of being followed by someone and you don't know who it is. In this case (tracking down clues to annotate), I... had narapoia, the feeling that it was I who was following someone and I didn't know who it was. I still don't. But I know Wanda Tinasky and I've learned a lot about Thomas Pynchon. The range of references is staggering, but I've been assured by an academic that any competent writer could have used them. Sure. Any competent writer with an amazing array of literary references spanning several centuries tossed off like salt over the shoulder, an extraordinarily quick mind and comic wit, a knowledgable interest in films and tv, able to write in parallels to Pynchon works, conversant in French and German and able to make puns in each, mocks the Pulitzer Prize with the glib disdain of one who was pusillanimously denied one, and shows a genuine affection for the people he writes to and about." Several times Wanda referred to a novel she/he was working on; the novel was certainly Vineland. Wanda began signing letters, "Yr. Ob'd'nt Servant, &c.,&c., Wanda Tinasky" in the style of the 18th century, the time of Mason & Dixon. And Wanda was very fond of ampersands.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
A NEW CONTROVERSY! From a letter to the editor of the Anderson Valley Advertiser, March 17, 1999, signed "Prof. Donald Foster, Vassar College:"
"Who was Wanda Tinasky, the heartless critic of Mendocino's high koltcha? Was there more than one 'Wanda'?"
"The letter to the AVA in which Wanda says "heeb" (10/15/86) and the one in which Wanda defends herself from Gordy Black's funeral poem (10/29/86) were both written, I believe, by Thomas Hawkins of Fort Bragg. Two years later, that Wanda Tinasky came to a catastrophic end. In September 1988, Tom Hawkins killed his wife Kathleen, and burned down their home with her body inside. Hawkins then took his own life by driving Kathy's car over a cliff."
"... the 11/11/86 Wanda letter is certainly not by the same 'Wanda Tinasky' who wrote most of the other 'Wanda Tinasky' letters...," rather by a Mendocino poet and writer who has not confirmed Foster's claim.
Donald Foster is a controversial literary attributionist who wrote to Bruce Anderson, editor/publisher of the Anderson Valley Advertiser on 22 October 1996 (four and a half months after publication of The Letters of Wanda Tinasky).
He began, "I am writing to you about the Wanda Tinasky letters, with which I may be able to provide some help," finishing the page with colorful synopses of his work on a funeral elegy signed "W.S.," which he determined was written by William Shakespeare, and his outing of Joe Klein as author of Primary Colors.
The second page began, "I do a lot of expert witness testimony for legal disputes involving questions of attribution or authenticity, for which labor I get paid the handsome rate of $200/hour. I haven't followed the Tinasky controversy very closely, but I'm interested in taking a look, without any fee--chiefly for my own interest, which has been piqued by your careful and courageous research. Can you tell me when and how to get a copy of The Tinasky Letters? I'd also be interested in reading Steven Howland's analysis (which Lingua Franca [Sept. '95] reports will be omitted from the volume). I may be able to lend you some assistance in making your voice heard among skeptical academics--especially if you can supply the Tinasky letters in machine-readable format (whether on diskette or transmitted over the Internet). In the meantime, if a few Pynchon scholars have been jerking you around or simply ignoring your research, I wouldn't let it worry you too much."
Similarly, in the JonBenet Ramsey case, Foster wrote to Patsy Ramsey on June 18, 1997: "I know you are innocent -- know it absolutely and unequivocally. I will stake my professional reputation on it, indeed my faith in humanity," and declared he could prove she did not write the ransom note. Foster's three-page letter said that his analysis of it "leads me to believe you did not write it and the police are wasting their time by trying to prove that you did."
Several months after "lawyers for the (Ramsey) family rejected the offer," Foster was hired by the Boulder police and produced a 100-page report on the two and 1/2-page note in which he determined that Mrs. Ramsey did write the note, based on usage of exclamation points and paragraph indentations. (Rocky Mountain News 9/26 & 27/98)
"Police and prosecutors didn't find out about Foster's letter (to Patsy Ramsey) until several days after the June case presentation. Now Foster's effectiveness as a witness is seriously in doubt." (Boulder Daily Camera 10/19/98)
On the other hand, Joe Klein denounced Foster for four months before he confessed that the "Anonymous" author of Primary Colors was he. Although there is a large body of Shakespeare academics and scholars who argue with Foster's elegy attribution, the Bard himself cannot be questioned. He's dead. Tom Hawkins cannot be questioned. He's dead.
The question remains open: Who were the Wanda Tinaskys? Many of the letters' internal clues certainly point to Thomas Pynchon and many Pynchon scholars and readers have agreed. What of Foster's introduction of a Tom Hawkins, yet to be publicly presented for discussion, analysis and argument? Foster has said he intends to include a chapter on Wanda in his own book, to be published sometime in the spring or summer of 2000. The supply of remaining first editions of The Letters of Wanda Tinasky, for cross referencing and pure enjoyment, will be long gone by then.
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