Robert M. Pirsig Biography

(Writer, Philosopher)

Birthday: September 6, 1928 (Virgo)

Born In: Minneapolis, U.S.

Robert M. Pirsig was the renowned author of the bestseller, ‘Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance,” a popular cult classic of the present century. As a child, he believed that there was a theory that could explain the different singularities of life and he hoped that science would be the solution to his queries and enlighten him. Contrary to his conviction, he arrived at a number of hypotheses for many given phenomenon while he was doing laboratory work at the University of Minnesota. This resulted in the deterioration of his academic performance and his subsequent dismissal from the university. He advocated the theory of ‘Metaphysics of Quality’ and through his works he explained the impact of “quality” and “good” over reality. His theory is the culmination of Western and Oriental philosophy through which he offered solutions to the crises of values in the western civilization. He also authored another famous book ‘Lila: An Inquiry into Morals’, which was nominated for the Pulitzer.
Quick Facts

Also Known As: Robert Maynard Pirsig

Died At Age: 88


Spouse/Ex-: Nancy Ann James, Wendy Kimball (m. 1978; his death 2017)

father: Maynard Pirsig

mother: Harriet Marie Sjobeck

children: Chris, Nell, Theodore

Child Prodigies Novelists

Died on: April 24, 2017

place of death: South Berwick, Maine

City: Minneapolis, Minnesota

U.S. State: Minnesota

Diseases & Disabilities: Schizophrenia

More Facts

education: University of Minnesota, University of Chicago, Banaras Hindu University

awards: 1974 - Guggenheim Fellowship

Childhood & Early Life:
Robert Maynard Pirsig was born to Maynard Pirsig and Harriet Marie Sjobeck, in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
At the tender age of nine, he possessed an exceptional IQ of 170, owing to which he could skip several grades at school. He then studied at Blake School and was granted his high school degree in 1943.
He joined the University of Minnesota to study biochemistry while he was just fifteen but became perplexed by the existence of more than one hypothesis for any given phenomena. As a result, he lost interest in studies, failed grades and was dismissed from the University.
After serving in the U.S Army for a short time, he came back to Seattle and resumed his incomplete college education. In May 1950, he earned a Bachelor of Arts in Eastern Philosophy.
He then studied at the Banaras Hindu University to broaden his knowledge in the Eastern philosophy and culture.
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In the early 1950s, he travelled to Minnesota, Mexico and Nevada, while simultaneously working as a freelance journalist and technical writer. At this time, he also focused his energies on writing short stories.
From September to December 1953, along with Nancy Ann James, whom he married the following year, he was engaged in co-editing ‘The Ivory Tower’ edition of the ‘Minnesota Daily’, the literary magazine of the University of Minnesota.
In 1955, he got involved in summer humanitarian work for the United Press Service in Minneapolis. The same year, he was also employed to write educational booklets for students in the seventh and eighth grade of school.
In 1956, he was employed on production of marketing educational film for the ‘Minneapolis Grain Exchange’. The same year, he penned articles on R&D for the General Mills Research Labs.
In April 1958, he quit his work at General Mills and received his MA in Journalism. He also became a professor at the Montana State University, where he taught creative writing for the next two years.
In 1967, he signed a contract with Century Publications and began his draft for ‘Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance’. The following year, despite trying his best, his work was rejected by a number of publishing houses.
In 1974, he penned ‘Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values’, which was the first of his philosophical novels, detailing his motorcycle journey from Minnesota to California and his philosophical discoveries during this time.
In 1991, his second philosophical novel entitled, ‘Lila: An Inquiry into Morals’ was published and is considered to be a semi-autobiographical book set in the Hudson River. This follow-up is also believed to have developed the ‘Metaphysics of Quality’.
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Major Works
‘Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance’ was published in 1974. It is a novel on philosophy, based on the author’s 17-day motorcycle ride along with his son. The “cultural bearing” book surprised the author with the sale of 5 million copies as it was rejected 121 times, before it was published by William Morrow Publishers.
In “Lila: An Inquiry into Morals,” the author categorizes Universe under two major divisions, the Static and Dynamic. The underlying themes based on the ‘Metaphysics of Quality’ and anthropology, made this second-instalment worthy of a Pulitzer Prize-nomination.
Awards & Achievements
In recognition of his work, ‘Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance’ he was awarded a ‘Guggenheim Fellowship’ in 1974 that motivated him to write the sequel, ‘Lila: An Inquiry into Morals’.
He was the recipient of American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters Award in 1979.
He was nominated for Pulitzer Prize in 1992 for his work ‘Lila: An Inquiry into Morals’.
He was also nominated for the ‘National Book Award’ for Contemporary Affairs. The award is given to U.S. citizens in recognition to their outstanding contribution to literature.
Personal Life & Legacy
Robert Pirsig married Nancy Ann James on May 10, 1954 and they had two sons; Chris and Theodore.
On December 31, 1978, he married Wendy Kimball and they had a daughter, Nell.
He died on April 24, 2017, at the age of 88, at his home in South Berwick, Maine.
This American writer had paranoid schizophrenia and underwent electroconvulsive therapy (ECT).
One of his famous quotes reads thus: “The Buddha resides as comfortably in the circuits of a digital computer or the gears of a cycle transmission as he does at the top of a mountain.”
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