Thomas Clayton Wolfe Biography

(An Important Writer in Modern American Literature and One of the First Masters of Autobiographical Fiction)

Birthday: October 3, 1900 (Libra)

Born In: Asheville, North Carolina, United States

Thomas Clayton Wolfe was a popular American novelist and short-story writer of the 20th century. He is known for his long autobiographical novels, such as ‘Look Homeward, Angel.’ Born and raised in North Carolina, he obtained a BA degree from the ‘University of North Carolina’ and an MA from ‘Harvard University.’ He studied playwriting at the university and staged his plays with the ‘47 Workshop.’ Later, he moved to New York but did not succeed in selling his plays at ‘Broadway.’ He then taught English at the ‘New York University.’ During a Europe trip, he began writing his first autobiographical novel, ‘Look Homeward, Angel.’ The novel brought him immense critical acclaim. He then published his second novel, ‘Of Time and the River,’ through ‘Harper & Brothers.’ He died of tuberculosis that had spread to his brain at the age of 38. Although he had written huge volumes of fiction, he did not see much of his work being published. A major part of his writings was published posthumously.

Quick Facts

Also Known As: Thomas Wolfe

Died At Age: 37


Spouse/Ex-: Aline Bernstein

father: William Oliver Wolfe

mother: Julia Elizabeth Westall

siblings: Ben

Born Country: United States

Novelists Short Story Writers

Height: 6'6" (198 cm), 6'6" Males

Died on: September 15, 1938

place of death: Baltimore, Maryland, United States

U.S. State: North Carolina

Diseases & Disabilities: Pneumonia

Ancestry: German American

Cause of Death: Tuberculosis

More Facts

education: Harvard University, University Of North Carolina At Chapel Hill

  • 1

    What are some major themes in Thomas Wolfe's writing?

    Some major themes in Thomas Wolfe's writing include the search for identity, the impact of place on individuals, the passage of time, and the complexity of human relationships.

  • 2

    How did Thomas Wolfe's own life experiences influence his writing?

    Thomas Wolfe drew heavily from his own life experiences in his writing, often using his own relationships and travels as inspiration for his novels and stories.

  • 3

    What are some of Thomas Wolfe's most famous works?

    Some of Thomas Wolfe's most famous works include "Look Homeward, Angel," "Of Time and the River," and "You Can't Go Home Again."

  • 4

    How did Thomas Wolfe's writing style differ from other authors of his time?

    Thomas Wolfe's writing style was known for its lyrical and expansive prose, as well as its focus on capturing the emotional and psychological depths of his characters.

  • 5

    What influence did Thomas Wolfe have on American literature?

    Thomas Wolfe is considered a significant figure in American literature for his exploration of themes such as identity, memory, and the complexity of human experience, influencing future generations of writers.

Childhood & Early Life
Wolfe was born on October 3, 1900, in Asheville, North Carolina, to William Oliver Wolfe and Julia Elizabeth Westall-Wolfe. His father was a stone carver, while his mother owned a boarding house and dealt in real estate.
Wolfe was youngest of the eight siblings in the family. The first-born child of his parents, Leslie, died in infancy. His other siblings were Eddie Nelson, Frank Cecil, Mabel Elizabeth, twins Grover Cleveland and Benjamin Harrison, and Frederick William. In 1904, during the ‘World Fair,’ he accompanied his family to St. Louis, where his mother ran a boarding house. One of his brothers, Grover, died of typhoid in St. Louis.
In 1905, Wolfe joined Asheville’s public school. In 1912, he began studying at Mr. & Mrs. Roberts’ private school.
Wolfe’s mother bought a boarding house named the ‘Old Kentucky Home’ on 48, Spruce Street of Asheville, where she moved in with Thomas. Though it was situated close to the family home on 92 Woodfin Street, where Thomas often went to meet his siblings, he mostly spent a lonely childhood. His older brother, Ben, died in 1918. This left a deep emotional impact on Wolfe, as he was quite close to Ben.
In 1916, Wolfe joined the ‘University of North Carolina,’ where he was the editor of the student newspaper ‘The Tar Heel.’ His essay ‘The Crisis in Industry’ won him the ‘Worth Prize for Philosophy.’ He was a member of the ‘Dialectic Society’ and the ‘Pi Kappa Phi’ fraternity. He was an inductee of the ‘Golden Fleece’ honor society.
Wolfe volunteered as a civilian war worker in Norfolk during the summer of 1918. Later, he joined Prof. Frederick Koch’s playwriting course at the university. In March 1919, the university’s theater company, ‘Carolina Playmakers,’ performed his one-act play, ‘The Return of Buck Gavin.’ The play witnessed Wolfe playing the title role. The group also staged his ‘The Third Night’ in December 1919.
In June 1920, Wolfe graduated with a BA degree. He joined the ‘Graduate School for Arts and Sciences’ at ‘Harvard University’ in September 1920. He studied playwriting under George Pierce Baker at his ‘47 Workshop.’ In 1921, two versions of Wolfe’s play ‘The Mountains’ were performed by the ‘47 Workshop.’ In 1922, he obtained his MA degree from ‘Harvard.’
In June 1922, Wolfe’s father passed away in Asheville. He studied for one more year under Baker. In May 1923, his 10-scene play, ‘Welcome to Our City,’ was staged by ‘47 Workshop.’
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In November 1923, Wolfe went to New York City to raise funds for the ‘University of North Carolina’ and with an aim to see his plays on ‘Broadway.’ However, even after 3 years, he did not succeed, as the plays were lengthy and unsuitable for stage. In 1924, he joined the ‘Washington Square College’ of ‘New York University’ as an instructor for English. He continued to teach from time to time, until January 1930.
Wolfe went to Europe for the first time in October 1924. There, he visited France, Italy, and Switzerland. While returning in 1925, he met Mrs. Aline Bernstein, wife of a stockbroker and a mother of two. She was a scene designer for ‘Theater Guild.’ In October 1925, he got romantically involved with Aline, who was 18 years his senior. The two had an intense, stormy affair for the next 5 years. She proved to be a powerful influence and muse of his life.
On his second European trip in 1926, Wolfe commenced work on his first novel, initially titled, ‘O Lost.’ After 20 months of writing, he completed it in March 1928 and submitted the manuscript to ‘Scribner’s,’ who showed immense interest in it. The lengthy manuscript was edited by well-known editor Maxwell Perkins. The two had a long and close association.
Perkins edited the long autobiographical fiction to a manageable proportion. It was named ‘Look Homeward, Angel.’ The novel was about the protagonist ‘Eugene Gant,’ Wolfe’s alter ego, who lived in the town of ‘Altamont,’ which stood for Asheville. It was published on October 8, 1929, and was well-received. Wolfe was considered one of the most promising American novelists of the time. However, his family and the residents of Asheville, who could easily recognize their references in the novel, did not take it well. Wolfe stayed away from the town for nearly 8 years. Soon after, he ended his relationship with Bernstein.
in 1930, Wolfe went to Europe for a year on a ‘Guggenheim Fellowship.’ Later, he stayed in Brooklyn and continued to write. He withdrew his second novel, ‘K-19,’ after submitting it for publication. He published the short novels ‘A Portrait of Bascom Hawk’ and ‘Web of Earth.’ The former co-won the ‘Scribner’s Short Novel Prize.’
By 1935, Wolfe had completed a short novel named ‘No Door’ and a collection of three more novellas. On Perkins’s suggestion, in 1933, he began his second lengthy autobiographical novel, ‘Of Time and the River.’ Wolfe had reservations about the final edited product, though it sold better than his first novel.
Not too happy with Perkins’s severe editing, Wolfe signed with ‘Harper & Brothers.’ He made a speech at the 1935 ‘Writer’s Conference,’ Colorado, (later published as ‘The Story of a Novel’), stating his struggle with his second novel. A collection of short stories and novels, ‘From Death to Morning,’ was published in November 1935.
Wolfe’s writing was popular in Europe, especially in Germany. On his last two visits, he witnessed the treatment given to Jews in Germany, which culminated in his short novel ‘I Have a Thing to Tell You.’ After it was published, he was prohibited from entering that country.
In 1936–1937, Wolfe released his short writings through several publications. In 1937, he visited Asheville after nearly 8 years.
In 1938, he submitted a volume of his writings to Edward Aswell of ‘Harper & Brothers.’ He then began a tour of Western United States. He delivered a guest lecture at the ‘Purdue University’ and then visited 11 national parks. While in Seattle, he fell sick with pneumonia, which later developed in tuberculosis that spread to his brain. He was sent to the ‘John Hopkins Hospital,’ Baltimore, but died on September 15, 1938.
His two long novels, ‘The Web and the Rock’ (1939) and ‘You Can’t Go Home Again’ (1940); his collection of short stories, ‘The Hills Beyond’ (1941); and many of his other writings were edited and published posthumously.
Facts About Thomas Clayton Wolfe

Thomas Clayton Wolfe, known for his larger-than-life personality, stood at an impressive height of 6 feet and 6 inches, making him a towering figure in more ways than one.

Wolfe had a unique writing style that often featured long, flowing sentences and vivid descriptions, earning him a reputation as a master of lyrical prose.

Despite his success as a writer, Wolfe had a playful side and enjoyed engaging in activities such as playing the harmonica and performing dramatic readings of his works for friends and colleagues.

Wolfe had a deep appreciation for travel and exploration, drawing inspiration from his experiences in various cities and countries around the world, which he incorporated into his writing.

In addition to his literary pursuits, Wolfe had a keen interest in painting and would often spend hours immersed in creating colorful and expressive artworks, showcasing his artistic talents beyond the written word.

See the events in life of Thomas Clayton Wolfe in Chronological Order

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