NEW YORK (CelebrityAccess) — Tom Wolfe, a prolific American writer who helped to pioneer the New Journalism movement and then went on to critique American culture with lacerating satirical fiction, died on Monday in Manhattan. He was 88.
According to the New York Times, his deal was confirmed by his agent, Lynn Nesbit, who said Mr. Wolfe had been hospitalized with an infection.
A member of the southern Patrician class and known for his sartorial splendor, Wolfe joined the staff of the New York Herald Tribune as a reporter in 1962 and quickly made a name for himself through an innovative blend of nonfiction reporting and novelistic techniques. While Wolfe was not the only writer to pioneer this new style, he coined the term when, in 1973, he published a collection of articles from the likes of Truman Capote, Hunter S. Thompson and Joan Didion in 1973 under the name ‘The New Journalism.’
Wolfe’s own contribution to this canon includes the seminal account of 1960s counter-culture with “The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test” in which Wolfe recounted his experiences traveling with Ken Kesey and his band of Merry Pranksters, and “The Right Stuff” Wolfe’s best-selling account of America’s first astronauts.
In the 1980s, Wolfe turned his attention to fiction, and his novel “The Bonfire of the Vanities” (1987) which was originally published as a serial in Rolling Stone, offered a scathing critique of the moral and financial excesses of the 1980s. While the book was not universally well regarded by the critical press, it was an enormous financial success.
His second novel “A Man in Full” (1998) which recounts a tale of scheming in Atlanta High Society, was also a commercial success with the reading public. However, the novel drew a number of critical reviews, including from noted author John Updike, whose review for the New Yorker complained that the novel “amounts to entertainment, not literature, even literature in a modest aspirant form.”
Wolfe followed with “I Am Charlotte Simmons” which recounts the tale of an ambitious girl from a family of modest means in the rural south as she navigates the social and academic world of an elite East Coast university. The novel was an immediate best-seller, but sold far fewer copies than his previous works. It was also manhandled in the critical press, with London-based Literary Review awarding Wolfe with its 2004 Bad Sex in Fiction Award, which recognizes bad sex scenes in literature.
“Tom may be the hardest-working show-off the literary world has ever owned,” Author Norman Mailer wrote in the New York Review of Books following the publication of ‘A Man In Full’. “But now he will no longer belong to us. (If indeed he ever did!) He lives in the King Kong Kingdom of the Mega-bestsellers — he is already a Media Immortal. He has married his large talent to real money and very few can do that or allow themselves to do that.”
A native of Richmond, Virginia, Wolfe attended private schools and then Washington and Lee University, where he helped to found the litary magazine Shenandoah. He then attended Yale, where he earned a Ph.D. in American Studies.
Wolfe received numerous awards over the course of his career and not all tongue-in-cheek like the Bad Sex In Fiction Award. His accolades include National Book Awards for “The Right Stuff,” and in 2010, a National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters.
Tom Wolfe is survived by his wife, Shelia, and his children, Alexandra and Thomas.