Tom Wolfe Biography

(American author)

Birthday: March 2, 1931 (Pisces)

Born In: Richmond, Virginia, United States

One of the most popular and audacious journalists/authors of our age, Tom Wolfe heralded the ‘New Journalism’ movement, which broke the conventions and restrictions on journalistic writing. His unique and fresh style of writing suited the popular magazines including Harper's, Esquire, The New Yorker and Rolling Stone. He has also been credited for coining certain words/phrases such as ‘statusphere,’ ‘the right stuff,’ ‘radical chic,’ ‘the Me Decade,’ and ‘social x-ray’, which have become a part of English vocabulary. His influence, especially in the world of printed media, is massive and not only he taught writers to exercise a certain degree of independence, but also introduced the usage of present tense while writing profile articles. Later, he wrote novels which were commercially successful but many of the mainstream writers severely criticized his writings owing to the approach he adopted in his literary works. Even today, disagreements between him and writers such as John Updike, Norman Mailer, Gore Vidal and John Irving are common in the public eye. Nonetheless, he remains one of the greatest journalists of the present day, who showed a new technique and offered a new insight into journalism, which also dealt with analysis and evaluation of facts.

Quick Facts

Also Known As: Thomas Kennerly Wolfe Jr.

Died At Age: 87


Spouse/Ex-: Sheila

father: Thomas Kennerly Wolfe Sr.

mother: Louise

children: Alexandra, Tommy

Born Country: United States

Quotes By Tom Wolfe Atheists

Height: 5'3" (160 cm), 5'3" Males

Died on: March 14, 2018

place of death: New York City, New York, United States

U.S. State: Virginia

More Facts

education: Washington and Lee University, Yale University

awards: 1961 - Washington Newspaper Guild Award for Foreign News Reporting
1961 - Washington Newspaper Guild Awards for Humor
1970 - Society of Magazine Writers Award for Excellence

1973 - Frank Luther Mott Research Award
1974 - D.Litt.
Washington and Lee University
1977 - Virginia Laureate for literature
1980 - National Book Award for Nonfiction for The Right Stuff
1980 - Columbia Journalism Award for The Right Stuff
1980 - Harold D. Vursell Memorial Award of the American Institute of Arts and Letters
1980 - Art History Citation from the National Sculpture Society
1984 - John Dos Passos Award
1986 - Gari Melchers Medal
1986 - Benjamin Pierce Cheney Medal from Eastern Washington University
1986 - Washington Irving Medal for Literary Excellence
1998 - Finalist for the National Book Award for A Man in Full
2001 - National Humanities Medal
2003 - Chicago Tribune Literary Prize for Lifetime Achievement
2004 - Bad Sex in Fiction Award from the Literary Review
2005 - Academy of Achievement Golden Plate Award
2006 - Jefferson Lecture in Humanities
2010 - National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters

  • 1

    What are some of Tom Wolfe's most famous books?

    Some of Tom Wolfe's most famous books include "The Bonfire of the Vanities," "The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test," and "The Right Stuff."
  • 2

    What was Tom Wolfe known for in terms of his writing style?

    Tom Wolfe was known for pioneering the literary style known as New Journalism, which blended traditional reporting with immersive storytelling techniques.
  • 3

    How did Tom Wolfe influence American literature?

    Tom Wolfe is credited with influencing American literature by introducing a new form of creative nonfiction that captured the essence of American society and culture.
  • 4

    What were some of the recurring themes in Tom Wolfe's works?

    Some of the recurring themes in Tom Wolfe's works included social status, ambition, excess, and the complexities of modern American life.
  • 5

    How did Tom Wolfe's background as a journalist influence his writing?

    Tom Wolfe's background as a journalist influenced his writing by infusing his works with meticulous research, attention to detail, and a keen sense of observation.
Childhood & Early Life
Tom was born to Thomas Kennerly Wolfe, Sr. an agronomist and Louise Wolfe, a landscape designer.
As a child he attended the St. Christopher's School, Richmond, Virginia, where he was the student council president. Apart from being the editor of the newspaper published by the school, He was also an excellent baseball player.
He graduated in 1949 and went to the Washington and Lee University, where he pursued English literature.
At the university, he was appointed the editor of the sports section in the college newspaper and also helped establish ‘Shenandoah’, his college literary magazine.
He graduated with honors in 1951 after which he tried hands at baseball, and began playing at semi-professional level whilst at college.
He auditioned for the New York Giants in 1952, but the team could not keep him for more than three days, and he quit playing baseball. Thereafter, he attended the Yale University's American Studies and earned a Ph.D.
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He began his career as a reporter for ‘The Republican’, a newspaper in Springfield, Massachusetts, in 1956.
He left ‘The Republican’ to work as a newspaperman for ‘The Washington Post’ where he covered the Cuban Revolution and was awarded the Washington Newspaper Guild Award for Foreign News Reporting, in 1961.
‘The New York Herald Tribune’ hired him in 1962, as a reporter and feature writer where he wrote articles for the paper’s Sunday supplement, later released as ‘New York Magazine’.
He was asked by the Esquire magazine to write an article on hot rod culture of Southern California, which he struggled to write. However, unable to deliver the article just before the due date in 1962, he sent a letter to the editor of the magazine explaining his ideas. Fascinated by the letter itself, the editor removed the greeting and published it as it was.
Wolfe received mixed reviews for the article which, according to him, promulgated ‘the New Journalism’, a novel journalistic writing style. A collection of his articles he had contributed to Esquire were made into a book and published under the title ‘The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby’ in 1965. The book became a rage among car lovers.
It was followed by ‘The Pump House Gang’ in 1968, a book based on several features of the counterculture of the 1960s. The same year, he published ‘The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test’, which went on to become one of his best books till date.
In 1970, he came up with an essay which was a critical account of a party given by Leonard Bernstein, a composer and musician, for raising funds for Black Panther Party. The essay was titled ‘Radical Chic & Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers’.
He published ‘The Right Stuff’ in 1979, through which he offered an insight into the careers and lives of America's first astronauts.
His first novel ‘The Bonfire of the Vanities’ was published in 1987, which was based on the metropolitan lifestyle of New York.
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His next venture was his second novel ‘A Man in Full’ which took him 11 years to complete, and was published in 1998.
In 2001, he came up with ‘Hooking Up’, a short story and essay collection, some of which were written earlier for some popular magazines.
‘I Am Charlotte Simmons’, his third novel, was published in 2004. It was about a poor, down-to-earth and brilliant student from Alleghany County, North Carolina and her experience in a respectable university in the city.
‘Back to Blood’, his fourth novel based on the lives of Cuban immigrants in Miami, Florida, was published in 2012.
Major Works
His first collection of essays ‘The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby’ was hugely popular and became a bestseller.
His book ‘The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test’, which is considered one of his best works in the stream of ‘New Journalism’, explores the beginning and development of the hippie movement.
‘The Bonfire of the Vanities’, his first novel, received immense critical appreciation, much more than his other publications, and was also a bestseller for a very long time.
Awards & Achievements
In 1980, he received the National Book Award for non-fiction for his book ‘The Right Stuff’ which described the lives of the first astronauts of America.
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He was honored with the National Humanities Medal in 2001, in recognition to his contribution towards humanities.
He was awarded the ‘Academy of Achievement Golden Plate’ for accomplishments in the field of journalism.
Personal Life & Legacy
He married Sheila Berger in 1978 and the couple has two children, Alexandra and Thomas.
An atheist, Wolfe is 82 years old and currently lives with his family in New York City.
Facts About Tom Wolfe
Tom Wolfe was known for his signature style of wearing white suits, which became his trademark look throughout his career.
He coined the term "radical chic" to describe the trend of wealthy individuals supporting political movements as a form of social status.
Wolfe was a passionate advocate for the use of realistic detail in his writing, often immersing himself in the subjects he was researching to gain a deeper understanding.
He was a pioneer of the "New Journalism" movement, blending literary techniques with journalistic rigor to create a unique storytelling approach.
Wolfe's novel "The Bonfire of the Vanities" was a satirical take on the excesses of Wall Street in the 1980s, showcasing his sharp wit and keen observations of society.
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