|Birth Day:||March 2, 1931|
|Birth Place:||Richmond, Virginia, USA, United States|
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Upon graduation in 1947, he turned down admission to Princeton University to attend Washington and Lee University. At Washington and Lee, Wolfe was a member of the Phi Kappa Sigma fraternity. He majored in English, was sports editor of the college newspaper, and helped found a literary magazine, Shenandoah, giving him opportunities to practice his writing both inside and outside the classroom. Of particular influence was his professor Marshall Fishwick, a teacher of American studies educated at UVA and Yale. More in the tradition of anthropology than literary scholarship, Fishwick taught his students to look at the whole of a culture, including those elements considered profane. Wolfe's undergraduate thesis, entitled "A Zoo Full of Zebras: Anti-Intellectualism in America," evinced his fondness for words and aspirations toward cultural criticism. Wolfe graduated cum laude in 1951.
While still in college, Wolfe continued playing baseball as a pitcher and began to play semi-professionally. In 1952, he earned a tryout with the New York Giants, but was cut after three days, which he blamed on his inability to throw good fastballs. Wolfe abandoned baseball and instead followed his professor Fishwick's example, enrolling in Yale University's American studies doctoral program. His Ph.D. thesis was titled The League of American Writers: Communist Organizational Activity Among American Writers, 1929-1942. In the course of his research, Wolfe interviewed many writers, including Malcolm Cowley, Archibald MacLeish, and James T. Farrell. A biographer remarked on the thesis: "Reading it, one sees what has been the most baleful influence of graduate education on many who have suffered through it: It deadens all sense of style." Originally rejected, his thesis was finally accepted after he rewrote it in an objective rather than a subjective style. Upon leaving Yale, he wrote a friend, explaining through expletives his personal opinions about his thesis.
Though Wolfe was offered teaching jobs in academia, he opted to work as a reporter. In 1956, while still preparing his thesis, Wolfe became a reporter for the Springfield Union in Springfield, Massachusetts. Wolfe finished his thesis in 1957.
In 1959, he was hired by The Washington Post. Wolfe has said that part of the reason he was hired by the Post was his lack of interest in politics. The Post's city editor was "amazed that Wolfe preferred cityside to Capitol Hill, the beat every reporter wanted." He won an award from The Newspaper Guild for foreign reporting in Cuba in 1961 and also won the Guild's award for humor. While there, Wolfe experimented with fiction-writing techniques in feature stories.
In 1962, Wolfe left Washington D.C. for New York City, taking a position with the New York Herald Tribune as a general assignment reporter and feature writer. The editors of the Herald Tribune, including Clay Felker of the Sunday section supplement New York magazine, encouraged their writers to break the conventions of newspaper writing. Wolfe attracted attention in 1963 when, three months before the JFK assassination, he published an article on George Ohsawa and the sanpaku condition foretelling death.
Wolfe adopted wearing a white suit as a trademark in 1962. He bought his first white suit, planning to wear it in the summer, in the style of Southern gentlemen. He found that the suit he'd bought was too heavy for summer use, so he wore it in winter, which created a sensation. At the time, white suits were supposed to be reserved for summer wear. Wolfe maintained this as a trademark. He sometimes accompanied it with a white tie, white homburg hat, and two-tone spectator shoes. Wolfe said that the outfit disarmed the people he observed, making him, in their eyes, "a man from Mars, the man who didn't know anything and was eager to know."
During the 1962–63 New York City newspaper strike, Wolfe approached Esquire magazine about an article on the hot rod and custom car culture of southern California. He struggled with the article until his editor, Byron Dobell, suggested that Wolfe send him his notes so they could piece the story together. Wolfe procrastinated. The evening before the deadline, he typed a letter to Dobell explaining what he wanted to say on the subject, ignoring all journalistic conventions. Dobell's response was to remove the salutation "Dear Byron" from the top of the letter and publish it intact as reportage. The result, published in 1963, was "There Goes (Varoom! Varoom!) That Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby." The article was widely discussed—loved by some, hated by others. Its notoriety helped Wolfe gain publication of his first book, The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby, a collection of his writings from the Herald-Tribune, Esquire, and other publications.
In 1965, Wolfe published a collection of his articles in this style, The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby, adding to his notability. He published a second collection of articles, The Pump House Gang, in 1968. Wolfe wrote on popular culture, architecture, politics, and other topics that underscored, among other things, how American life in the 1960s had been transformed by post-WWII economic prosperity. His defining work from this era is The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test (published the same day as The Pump House Gang in 1968), which for many epitomized the 1960s. Although a conservative in many ways (in 2008, he claimed never to have used LSD and to have tried marijuana only once). Wolfe became one of the notable figures of the decade.
In 1970, he published two essays in book form as Radical Chic & Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers. "Radical Chic" was a biting account of a party given by composer and conductor Leonard Bernstein to raise money for the Black Panther Party. "Mau-Mauing The Flak Catchers" was about the practice by some African Americans of using racial intimidation ("mau-mauing") to extract funds from government welfare bureaucrats ("flak catchers"). Wolfe's phrase, "radical chic", soon became a popular derogatory term for critics to apply to upper-class leftism. His Mauve Gloves & Madmen, Clutter & Vine (1977) included Wolfe's noted essay, The "Me" Decade and the Third Great Awakening.
In addition to his own work, Wolfe edited a collection of New Journalism with E. W. Johnson, published in 1973 and titled The New Journalism. This book published pieces by Truman Capote, Hunter S. Thompson, Norman Mailer, Gay Talese, Joan Didion, and several other well-known writers, with the common theme of journalism that incorporated literary techniques and which could be considered literature.
Wolfe also wrote two critiques of and social histories of modern art and modern architecture, The Painted Word and From Bauhaus to Our House, published in 1975 and 1981, respectively. The Painted Word mocked the excessive insularity of the art world and its dependence on what he saw as faddish critical theory. In From Bauhaus to Our House he explored what he said were the negative effects of the Bauhaus style on the evolution of modern architecture.
In 1977, PBS produced Tom Wolfe's Los Angeles, a fictional, satirical TV movie set in Los Angeles. Wolfe appears in the movie as himself.
In 1979, Wolfe published The Right Stuff, an account of the pilots who became America's first astronauts. Following their training and unofficial, even foolhardy, exploits, he likened these heroes to "single combat warriors" of a bygone era, going forth to battle in the Space Race on behalf of their country. In 1983, the book was adapted as a feature film.
Throughout his early career, Wolfe had planned to write a novel to capture the wide reach of American society. Among his models was William Makepeace Thackeray's Vanity Fair, which described the society of 19th-century England. In 1981, he ceased his other work to concentrate on the novel.
Later Wolfe was unhappy with his "very public first draft" and thoroughly revised his work, even changing his protagonist, Sherman McCoy. Wolfe had originally made him a writer, but recast him as a bond salesman. Wolfe researched and revised for two years, and his The Bonfire of the Vanities was published in 1987. The book was a commercial and critical success, spending weeks on bestseller lists and earning praise from the very literary establishment on which Wolfe had long heaped scorn.
In 1989, Wolfe wrote an essay for Harper's Magazine, titled "Stalking the Billion-Footed Beast". It criticized modern American novelists for failing to engage fully with their subjects, and suggested that modern literature could be saved by a greater reliance on journalistic technique.
Because of the success of Wolfe's first novel, there was widespread interest in his second. This novel took him more than 11 years to complete; A Man in Full was published in 1998. The book's reception was not universally favorable, though it received glowing reviews in Time, Newsweek, The Wall Street Journal, and elsewhere. An initial printing of 1.2 million copies was announced and the book stayed at number one on The New York Times' bestseller list for ten weeks. Noted author John Updike wrote a critical review for The New Yorker, complaining that the novel "amounts to entertainment, not literature, even literature in a modest aspirant form." His comments sparked an intense war of words in the print and broadcast media among Wolfe and Updike, and authors John Irving and Norman Mailer, who also entered the fray.
In 2000, Wolfe was criticised by Norman Mailer, John Updike and John Irving, after they were asked if they believed that his books were deserving of their critical acclaim. Mailer compared reading a Wolfe novel to having sex with a 300 lb woman, saying 'Once she gets to the top it's all over. Fall in love or be asphyxiated.' Updike was more literary in his reservedness: he claimed that one of his books 'amounts to entertainment, not literature, even literature in a modest aspirant form.' Irving was perhaps the most dismissive, saying 'It's like reading a bad newspaper or a bad piece in a magazine ... read sentences and watch yourself gag.' Wolfe responded, saying, 'It's a tantrum. It's a wonderful tantrum. A Man in Full panicked Irving the same way it panicked Updike and Norman. Frightened them. Panicked them.' He later called Updike and Mailer 'two old piles of bones' and said again that Irving was frightened by the quality of his work. Later that year he published an essay titled My Three Stooges about the critics.
In 2001, Wolfe published an essay referring to these three authors as "My Three Stooges." That year he also published Hooking Up (a collection of short pieces, including the 1997 novella Ambush at Fort Bragg).
Wolfe supported George W. Bush as a political candidate and said he voted for him for president in 2004 because of what he called Bush's "great decisiveness and willingness to fight." Bush reciprocates the admiration, and is said to have read all of Wolfe's books, according to friends in 2005.
Wolfe's views and choice of subject material, such as mocking left-wing intellectuals in Radical Chic, glorifying astronauts in The Right Stuff and critiquing Noam Chomsky in The Kingdom of Speech sometimes resulted in his being labeled conservative. Due to his depiction of the Black Panther Party in Radical Chic, a member of the party called him a racist. Wolfe rejected such labels. In a 2004 interview in The Guardian, he said that his "idol" in writing about society and culture is Émile Zola. Wolfe described him as "a man of the left"; one who "went out, and found a lot of ambitious, drunk, slothful and mean people out there. Zola simply could not—and was not interested in—telling a lie."
Asked to comment by The Wall Street Journal on blogs in 2007 to mark the tenth anniversary of their advent, Wolfe wrote that "the universe of blogs is a universe of rumors" and that "blogs are an advance guard to the rear." He also took the opportunity to criticize Wikipedia, saying that "only a primitive would believe a word of" it. He noted a story about him in his Wikipedia bio article at the time which he said had never happened.
Wolfe announced in early 2008 that he was leaving his longtime publisher, Farrar, Straus and Giroux. His fourth novel, Back to Blood, was published in October 2012 by Little, Brown and Company. According to The New York Times, Wolfe was paid close to US$7 million for the book. According to the publisher, Back to Blood is about "class, family, wealth, race, crime, sex, corruption and ambition in Miami, the city where America's future has arrived first." The book was released to mixed reviews. Back to Blood was an even bigger commercial failure than I Am Charlotte Simmons.
In 2016 Wolfe published The Kingdom of Speech, a critique of the work of Charles Darwin and Noam Chomsky. Wolfe synthesized what he construed as the views of Wallace and Chomsky on the language organ as not being a product of natural selection to suggest that speech is an invention that is responsible for establishing our humanity. Some critics claimed that Wolfe's view on how humans developed speech were not supported by research and were opinionated.
Wolfe died from an infection in Manhattan on May 14, 2018, at the age of 88.
Currently, Tom Wolfe is 90 years, 9 months and 0 days old. Tom Wolfe will celebrate 91st birthday on a Wednesday 2nd of March 2022.
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