A widely respected writer who was famed for his ability to combine journalistic non-fiction with fiction-like style in his books and essays just passed away at the age of 88.
That writer would be Tom Wolfe, perhaps best known for his books “The Right Stuff” and “Bonfire of the Vanities,” among many others, who died after being hospitalized for an unspecified infection, according to his agent, Lynn Nesbit.
According to The New York Times, Wolfe was born March 2, 1930, in Richmond, Virginia, attended a private school in his youth and graduated from Washington and Lee University in 1951.
He received a modest start in journalism as a reporter with The Springfield Union in Massachusetts prior to joining The Washington Post and eventually moving on to New York in the 1960s where he became a long-time star of the now-defunct New York Herald-Tribune, while also contributing to other publications.
Wolfe was a contrarian with a sharp satirical wit in social commentary and pioneer of what became known as “new journalism,” described as writing journalistic non-fiction stories using styles common to works of fiction.
He was always dressed quite well, but even his extravagant mode of dress — mockingly self-described as “neo-pretentious” — served as a form of social critique of the pretentious upper class.
Wolfe’s skill as a journalist and writer earned him praise from both the left and the right.
Joseph Epstein of The New Republic said of Wolfe, “As a titlist of flamboyance he is without peer in the Western world.”
Meanwhile, William F. Buckley of National Review wrote of Wolfe, “He is probably the most skillful writer in America — I mean by that he can do more things with words than anyone else.”
His “gift of fluency” was equally praised by his editor at Esquire magazine, Byron Dobell, who said that the writer “has this unique gift of language that sets him apart as Tom Wolfe. It is full of hyperbole; it is brilliant; it is funny, and he has a wonderful ear for how people look and feel.”
In his nine non-fiction books and countless essays Wolfe covered topics ranging from the 1960s hipster counter-culture, the California surfer and customized car scene, New York’s wealthy class, the astronauts of the Mercury space program in “The Right Stuff” to even rich liberals mingling and fundraising for Black Panthers at pretentious dinner parties, which brought about the phrase “radical chic.”
Wolfe is survived by his wife, Sheila Berger Wolfe, and two children, Alexandra and Tommy Wolfe.