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Thomas Pynchon Wins Inaugural Christopher Lightfoot Walker Award

Contact: Ashley Fedor

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“MORE THAN NEARLY any other writer, Thomas Pynchon has shaped contemporary American literature.”

—RUSSELL BANKS, writer and Academy Member


Book jacket of Thomas Pynchon’s 2013 novel, Bleeding Edge.
Penguin Press.

NEW YORK, March 20, 2018— The American Academy of Arts and Letters has awarded Thomas Pynchon the inaugural Christopher Lightfoot Walker Award, which recognizes a writer of distinction who has made a significant contribution to American literature. This $100,000 biennial award was established through a bequest by Amber Lightfoot Walker, a devoted patron of the arts, to memorialize her son.

Mr. Pynchon was selected by a special committee of Academy members in Literature: Kwame Anthony Appiah, Russell Banks, Louis Begley, Amy Hempel, and Joy Williams. The jurors read and evaluated the works of many authors over a period of six months to arrive at their final choice. Nominations for the Academy’s awards come from the 250 members of the Academy (artists, architects, writers, and composers).

Of Mr. Pynchon’s work, Louis Begley noted, “Even if Gravity’s Rainbow had been his only novel, the contribution to American literature made by this unfailingly political, devastatingly funny, and brilliant writer would have been indelible.” Amy Hempel quoted from Richard Poirier’s 1973 review of Gravity’s Rainbow, which read “More than any other living writer, he has caught the inward movements of our time in outward manifestations of art and technology so that in being historical he must also be marvelously exorbitant.” Russell Banks wrote that “From its first appearance in the early 1960s, Pynchon’s work has been praised for its political and historical seriousness, for its literary ambition, and for the extraordinary range of the author’s intelligence and erudition.”

“It sets a high bar that the first recipient of the Christopher Lightfoot Walker Award for Literature is a figure of such stature,” says Steven M. L. Aronson, who initiated the award on behalf of the Walker estate. “We couldn’t be more pleased with the choice—and of course, now we’ll find out if the famously reclusive Pynchon will send, say, Patti Smith to accept for him!”



Thomas Pynchon is the author of V.; The Crying of Lot 49; Gravity’s Rainbow; Slow Learner, a collection of short stories; Vineland; Mason & Dixon; Against the Day; Inherent Vice; and, most recently, Bleeding Edge. He received the National Book Award for Gravity’s Rainbow in 1974.



The American Academy of Arts and Letters was founded in 1898 as an honor society of the country’s leading architects, artists, composers, and writers. Early members include William Merritt Chase, Childe Hassam, Julia Ward Howe, Henry James, Edward MacDowell, Theodore Roosevelt, Augustus Saint-Gaudens, John Singer Sargent, and Edith Wharton. The Academy’s 250 members are elected for life and pay no dues.

In addition to electing new members as vacancies occur, the Academy seeks to foster and sustain an interest in Literature, Music, and the Fine Arts by administering over 70 awards and prizes, exhibiting art and manuscripts, funding performances of new works of musical theater, and purchasing artwork for donation to museums across the country.

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