Sad news reached us yesterday with the death of American author and journalist Tom Wolfe.
Born Thomas Kennerly Wolfe Jr. on 2nd March 1930 in Richmond Virginia, Tom Wolfe showed his love for writing early, as editor of the school newspaper. After graduating in 1947, Wolfe turned down an offer for Princeton University and instead attented Washington and Lee University where he was a member of the Phi Kappa Sigma fraternity. During his time at university he majored in English, was sports editor of the university newspaper and helped to found a literary magazine, Shenandoah giving him plenty of opportunity to practice his writing and journalistic skills.
A keen baseball player too, Wolfe played semi-professionally while still at college and in 1952 earned a tryout with the New York Giants, he was cut after three days and abandoned baseball for good (possibly good news for us readers!) and took a doctorate instead.
Wolfe’s thesis was titled The League of American Writers: Communist Organizational Activity Among American Writers, 1929-1942 and in the course of his research interviews many writers of the day including Malcolm Cowley, Archibald MacLeish and James T. Farrell.
This led to Wolfe being offered many jobs in academia but he turned them all down to work as a reporter. In 1956 he become a reporter for the Springfield Union in Springfield, Massachusetts but by 1959 was working for the Washington Post. While working for the Post he won an award from The Newspaper Guild for foreign reportig in Cuba in 1961 and a further Guild’s award for humour. It was during this time that he honed his fiction writing skills in feature pieces for the Post.
Eventually Wolfe would head to New York and it was here he would find his first literary success. After being commissioned to write a piece for Esquire on the custom car culture of South California he struggled, slipping into procrastination. The evening before the deadline the piece still wasn’t written and Wolfe typed a letter to his editor, Byron Dobell ignoring all journalistic conventions and explain what he wanted to say on the subject. Dobell removed the salutation ‘Dear Byron’ and published the piece. While the piece itself got a mixed reception, the notoriety it created led to Wolfe publishing his first book The Kandy Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby, a collection of writings from his journalistic days. In the process he coined ‘New Journalism’.
The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test and many other nonfiction works would follow through the 1960s and 1970s and continue right up to 2016. In 1987 Wolfe got his first success as a novelist with his best known work, The Bonfire of the Vanities, said to be inspired by Vanity Fair. Three more full length novels followed, more nonfiction works, and a raft of awards for his journalism throughout his career. Wolfe’s final work was a nonfiction book, The Kingdom of Speech, released in 2016.
Recently Tom Wolfe was hospitalised in Manhattan with an infection. On Tuesday, Tom’s agent confirmed that Tom Wolfe had died on Monday 14th May, aged 88.
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