Tom Wolfe, the debonair essayist and author of landmark non-fiction and novels including The Right Stuff and Bonfire Of The Vanities, who also helped create the immersive New Journalism literary movement, has died. He was 88.
Wolfe, who was born in Virginia in 1931, died on Monday in Manhattan after being hospitalized with an infection. He had lived in New York since 1962, when he joined The New York Herald Tribune as a reporter. Following a newspaper strike that year, he published "There Goes (Varoom! Varoom!) That Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby" for Esquire, an article on hot rod and custom car culture of Southern California that smashed journalistic conventions and led to the publication of his first collection of writing.
Wolfe was a writer whose gifts extended into every permutation of the written form: he was adept at mixing genres and techniques with traditional journalism, bulldozing over staid ideas about objectivity to influence a generation of writers. He championed "saturation reporting," in which a journalist shadows a subject over a long period of time taking extensive notes. He also coined several famous idioms, including "radical chic" and "the Me Decade." As William F. Buckley, Jr. famously said of him: "He is probably the most skillful writer in America— I mean by that he can do more things with words than anyone else."
RIP tom wolfe. I think about his description of bad hangovers often pic.twitter.com/UCqE1smd5a
— Claire McNear (@claire_mcnear) May 15, 2018
RIP Tom Wolfe. opening lines of "The First Tycoon of Teen," his Jan '65 profile of Phil Spector for the NY Herald Tribune pic.twitter.com/wHmoSJZ6Sj
— Bowiesongs (@bowiesongs) May 15, 2018
Tom Wolfe, who played a key role in the launch of New York Magazine, has died at 87. Read his classic feature on The "Me" Decade https://t.co/FAETaW5w2D
— New York Magazine (@NYMag) May 15, 2018
From the archives: How Tom Wolfe became the voice of a journalistic generation https://t.co/jDzWCzGVi7
— VANITY FAIR (@VanityFair) May 15, 2018
Altogether, Wolfe authored nine non-fiction books (including The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test and The New Journalism), four novels, and four essay collections. Three of his works were adapted into movies: The Right Stuff, Bonfire Of The Vanities and The Last American Hero.
He was also known for his sharp sartorial sense. As the Times put it:
He was instantly recognizable as he strolled down Madison Avenue — a tall, slender, blue-eyed, still-boyish-looking man in his spotless three-piece vanilla bespoke suit, pinstriped silk shirt with a starched white high collar, bright handkerchief peeking from his breast pocket, watch on a fob, faux spats and white shoes. Once asked to describe his get-up, Mr. Wolfe replied brightly, “Neo-pretentious.”
A true joy of participating in NYC literary culture was seeing a man in an immaculate white suit, and thinking, "Could it be possibly be him?" and it always was. #RIPTomWolfe
— Maris Kreizman (@mariskreizman) May 15, 2018
We spoke with Wolfe three years ago, touching on the relevancy of Bonfire of the Vanities, as well as race, class, and his favorite New York City mayor. He gave us his take on "the phenomenon of Donald Trump": "He talks like a guy down on the street. He doesn’t have any of the airs of a rich man, and I think that’s why he’s attracted the following he has," he said. "As I recall, he ran once before or put his name in for it, then he said some rather silly things, but he is really so far pulling it off, and creates the impression that he’s telling it like it is. Not many politicians create that impression."
Tom Wolfe envisioned a Donald Trump before the actual one came into tabloid being. RIP https://t.co/ATVHHKuuR2
— Maggie Haberman (@maggieNYT) May 15, 2018