Pynchon graduated from Oyster Bay High School in 1953. He attended the Engineering Physics division at Cornell University, but left at the end of his second year to join the US Navy. He returned to Cornell in 1957 to pursue a degree in English. His first short story, "A Small Rain", was published in the Cornell Writer in May, 1959. He received his BA in June, 1959.
After graduation he began work on his first novel. During this time he worked as an engineering aide at Boeing, writing technical documents. V was published in 1963 and won a William Faulkner Foundation Award for best first novel of the year.
Around the publication of his third novel, Gravity's Rainbow in 1973, Pynchon became notorious for his avoidance of public view, and many rumors circulated about his identity. Only a few photos of him are known to exist. Shortly before the publication of Mason & Dixon in 1997, he was tracked down and filmed by CNN. Angered by this invasion of his privacy, he agreed to give CNN an interview in exchange for not revealing his photographs. When asked about his reclusive nature, he replied, "My belief is that 'recluse' is a code word generated by journalists... meaning, 'doesn't like to talk to reporters.'"
Pynchonmania: Thomas Pynchon is guest-"star" in an episode of the Simpsons: "Diatribe of a Mad Housewife". He plays himself wearing a paper bag over his head, but lends his voice.