The New York Public Library just acquired Tom Wolfe’s archives for $2.15 million. They include 190 boxes of drafts, outlines, and research for his articles and books as well as 10,000 letters from the likes of Hunter S. Thompson and Gay Talese. But the library missed the opportunity to get one of his famous white suits because as Wolfe said, “Those are the things I really can’t part with.” Here’s one of our favorite Wolfe essays, “Radical Chic: That Party at Lenny’s.”
Tom Wolfe’s next book will be a “nonfiction account of the animal/human speech divide,” reports Sarah Weinman. Presumably this effort – entitled The Kingdom of Speech – will be based on the author’s “Human Beast” lecture from 2006. (A lecture he went on to explicate in a 2008 interview with SF Gate.) Hopefully the Great White Suit’s return to straight nonfiction will prove more successful than his attempt at fictionalizing Miami last year.
"We are ablaze!—ablaze with excitement, burning, yearning for a glimpse of the John Jacob Astor, the Andrew Carnegie, the E.H. Harriman, the John D. Rockefeller, the Henry Ford, the Bill Gates of our century… and that’s him! Look at him! He’s not wearing Astor’s wing collar debouching a silk four-in-hand or John D.’s stiff silk topper and morning coat with a red carnation in the buttonhole of the left lapel and a pair of striped pants, nor even Bill Gates’s off-the-Joseph A. Bank—rack sack suit. No, our man is only 27 years old and attired as a tycoon of our time… His shirt is a gray T-shirt, one of the 30-some gray T-shirts he has on hand in order to make sure he is clad in the same rebelliously fashion-defying teenager garb every day… and over it, a dark-gray sweatshirt with a hood, a garment known familiarly as a hoodie. From this day, May 7, 2012, forward, the hoodie becomes his symbol, his trademark, his battle standard."
- “Eunuchs of the Universe: Tom Wolfe on Wall Street Today,” Tom Wolfe
"Here’s how [Tom] Wolfe described his former colleague’s transition from journalist to novelist: ‘[Charles] Portis quit cold one day; just like that, without a warning. He returned to the United States and moved into a fishing shack in Arkansas. In six months he wrote a beautiful little novel called Norwood. Then he wrote True Grit, which was a best seller. The reviews were terrific…. A fishing shack! In Arkansas! It was too goddamned perfect to be true, and yet there it was.’
Wolfe’s trademark hyperventilation is meant to imply that it’s unthinkable that anyone could write successful novels in a backwater like Arkansas. The truth is that novelists can work absolutely anywhere, and more than a few people think they’re better off far away from the media hum, high cost of living, and obsessive mirror gazing that go on in places like Wolfe’s adopted hometown of New York City. Besides, Portis didn’t write fiction about Arkansas; he wrote fiction out of Arkansas.”
- How Charles Portis Got Made: On Escape Velocity by Bill Morris
[Image via Garden and Gun]
Tom Wolfe is up for this year’s “Bad Sex Award" thanks to Back to Blood's numerous passages like this one:
“But then the tips of her breasts became erect on their own, and the flood in her loins washed morals, despair, and all other abstract assessments away in a cloud of some sort of divine cologne of his. Now his big generative jockey was inside her pelvic saddle, riding, riding, riding, and she was eagerly swallowing it swallowing it swallowing it with the saddle’s own lips and maw — all without a word.”
"Miami is a veritable treasure chest of weird. Hell, they eat people’s faces here. They overdose on bugs. They alternately molest and cockblock manatees. Wolfe, who loves realism, should’ve been able to uncover these things and more."
- There Is a Miami Beyond This Miami: On Back to Blood by Tom Wolfe
It shouldn’t have to be this way. In other American cities, like Burlington or Austin, residents implore one another to ‘Keep [City Name] Weird.’ In South Florida, these calls would be superfluous. Perhaps it’s the lack of a state income tax, or perhaps it’s to be expected from a state founded by hustlers, degenerates, and outlaws, but this place is a veritable treasure chest of weird. Hell, they eat people’s faces here. They overdose on bugs. They alternately molest and cockblock manatees. Wolfe, who loves realism, should’ve been able to uncover these things and more. He should’ve been able to build his novel on the framework of real weird (real interesting) details instead of on things that could take place anywhere: art forgeries, love triangles, and social apprehension. He should’ve been able to give us the Miami you’d encounter if you actually lived here, not the Miami you’d encounter only if your research consisted of Scarface and Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, which is surprising because his guides seem like they were totally capable and qualified. Instead, I suspect Wolfe was caught up in the same trap as the writers of Treme. He seems compelled to check off the boxes of Miami sightseeing without ever delving into what created those sights; he seems to favor the granular detail in place of the overarching narrative, the historical context.