“Love is the ultimate expression of the will to live.”
— Tom Wolfe
Tom Wolfe, the storied American author and journalistic whiz-kid of the 1970s passed away yesterday at the age of eighty-eight. Wolfe’s books, from The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, to The Right Stuff, to Bonfire of the Vanities explored American cultural phenomena in a revolutionary mode. In his nonfiction, like The Acid Test, Wolfe strayed from the cut and dry prose that defined journalism in the first half of the twentieth-century. He wrangled his words into unexpected cascades of meaning and syntax that conveyed the sensations of speed and intoxication his subjects were so familiar with. One of the originators of New Journalism, Wolfe gets mentioned in the same breath as Hunter S. Thompson, despite his rather staid image.
A son of the Virginian gentry, Wolfe was always found in his trademark white suit.
Your humble CONVICTS writer met Wolfe at a college campus book signing many moons ago. Wolfe looked weak and tired, but the spark of curiosity in his eyes and genteel air came through at the same wattage as his words.
Like just about anyone, Wolfe has a somewhat complicated legacy. He was the product of the Southern old school, which is not high on anyone’s merit list. Moreover, some of Wolfe’s later novels weren’t critically lauded. They were, indeed, tone-deaf on certain social issues. That being said, Wolfe’s fiction was never the centerpiece of his legacy.
The contributions he made to journalism paved the way for inventive prose styling, for the grand publications of our time like CONVICTS and lesser publications like Vice. Wolfe’s injection of honest subjectivity into a formerly, falsely objective mode of writing cleaned the slate for a generation of writers.
American literature lost one of its greats. Tom Wolfe will be missed.
May he rest in the place beyond writer’s block.
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