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Phyllis Gebauer, who made significant Thomas Pynchon donation, has died

June 17, 2011 |  6:10 pm


Phyllis Gebauer, the longtime friend of reclusive author Thomas Pynchon who recently made a significant gift of signed first editions of his books to the UCLA Extension Writers Program, has died.

In an email, Writers Program director Linda Venis announced that Gebauer, who was in her 80s, died June 15 at City of Hope. Venis praised the former creative writing instructor:

During the past two decades, Phyllis taught over 60 novel writing courses, and in recent years, memoir writing -- after she published, at the age of 80, Hot Widow, which Thomas Pynchon described as “rollicking and heartbreaking evidence that little black dresses aren’t just for graveside anymore.”  The recipient of the UCLA Extension Instructor Award in Creative Writing in 1992, Phyllis garnered the highest levels of praise every time she taught. Students loved her incisiveness, gift for making the complex accessible, and of course, her wicked sense of humor. When ill health forced Phyllis to cancel her “fictional approach to creating memoirs” class this past spring, it was fully enrolled with a waiting list.

Although friends knew that she was battling cancer, Gebauer did not seem ill during the event celebrating her donation of signed, first-edition books by Thomas Pynchon. In fact, she appeared lively, engaged, and far younger than her eight decades as she answered questions about her famous and publicity averse -- not reclusive, she said, just private -- friend. That was just six weeks ago.

Gebauer and her husband became friends with Pynchon when they all lived in Seattle. That was before "Tom," as she called him, was a published author; Pynchon's first book, "V," came out in 1963. Although Gebauer and her husband moved around -- he was a can't-talk-about-it aerospace engineer -- their paths intersected with Pynchon's in Texas and then in Southern California, where the friends spent much time together.

The above photo, taken in 1965, is from the Southern California period: a pig piñata they named Claude, Thomas Pynchon standing behind the door, flashing a peace sign, and Phyllis Gebauer, having a ball.


When Thomas Pynchon is just Tom: A remarkable collection debuts

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Phyllis Gebauer, with Claude the pig piñata and Thomas Pynchon waving a peace sign from behind the door, in Southern California in 1965. Credit: UCLA Extension Creative Writing Program