Tom Wolfe, the writer famous for his colorful and pioneering writing of cultural phenomena, died on May 14, 2018 in New York City, reported The New York Times. He was 88 years old and had been hospitalized for an infection, according to his agent Lynn Nesbit, reported The Associated Press.
Wolfe made significant contributions to both journalism and literature, writing important books that include the non-fiction book "The Right Stuff" (1979); the novel "Bonfire of the Vanities" (1987); the non-fiction book "The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test" (1968) and the art criticism book "The Painted Word" (1975). His style of writing, that blended fiction techniques with journalism ones, launched the genre of New Journalism.
Wolfe's last fiction book, "Back to Blood" (2012), is set in the city of Miami. As described by critic James Croak in a book review for Hamptons Art Hub, "If his 'Bonfire of the Vanities' (1987) profiled New York as a simmering melting pot, this fourth novel is the pot boiling over with Cubanos, Russians, Haitians, Latinos, and Americanos baking in a town where 'everybody hates everybody.'"
His final non-fiction book, "The Kingdom of Speech," was published in 2016.
To mark Wolfe's passing and his importance to culture, the National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, in Washington, DC, installed his portrait made by Yousuf Karsh in the museum's In Memoriam space on its first floor. The photograph will remain on view through June 3, 2018, according to the museum. The portrait of Wolfe was made in 1990 and is part of a collection of over 100 portraits by Karsh in the National Portrait Gallery’s collection, according to the museum.
While Wolfe's words and insights made him renowned, his attire made him easily identifiable. A fan of three-piece white suits accented by handkerchief and tie, Wolfe was instantly recognizable whether walking along Madison Avenue in New York City or attending a literary event in The Hamptons. Wolfe once described his famous look as "Neo-pretentious," according to The New York Times.
Wolfe spent his summers in Southampton, NY and was known to have occasionally sent pages of a book in progress to his publisher via the Hampton Jitney, according to Paul Elie for The New Yorker. Wolfe contributed to the writing program at the now defunct Southampton College and its successor, Stony Brook Southampton. Southampton College honored Wolfe as its 15th Annual Steinbeck Award Winner in 2003. Wolfe occasionally appeared at Southampton Writers Conference offered by Stony Brook Southampton, held at the Southampton, NY campus.
Thomas Kennerly Wolfe Jr. was born in Richmond, Virginia. He began his life-long affair with journalism as the co-editor of his high school newspaper, according to Newsday. He later earned a doctorate in American studies from Yale University. In 1957, he joined the Springfield (Massachusetts) Union. By 1962, he began working at the now defunct New York Herald-Tribune.
In the early 1980s, Wolfe turned his attention to fiction. His now-famous "The Bonfire of the Vanities" first appeared as a serial in Rolling Stone magazine in 1984-85. Written (and published) one chapter at a time, the serial was published as a novel in 1987.
Wolfe is survived by his wife, Sheila Berger, a former art director of Harper’s Magazine, and their children Alexandra and Tommy. Click here to read an extensive obituary written by Deirdre Carmody and William Grimes for The New York Times.
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