Pioneering journalist, bestselling author, and New York City literary fixture Tom Wolfe died in Manhattan on May 14. He was 88.
Wolfe, whose passing was confirmed to the New York Times by his literary agent, Lynn Nesbit, was known for being one of the leading voices of the “New Journalism” movement, which he, along with such fellow highly-stylized reporters as Hunter S. Thompson and Gay Talese, helped pioneer in the 1960s and ’70s. (Wolfe codified the term in a 1973 collection he edited, called The New Journalism, which featured works by Thompson, Talese, Norman Mailer, Truman Capote, Joan Didion, Terry Southern, and Robert Christgau, among others.) This style of journalism was typified by bringing the elements for long-form nonfiction writing to articles, resulting in works known for their literary flair and reliance on less traditional methods of reporting.
In addition to being a leading journalist, Wolfe was also a prolific and bestselling author of nonfiction and fiction titles. His The Right Stuff, about the early astronauts and America’s space race, won the National Book Award for Nonfiction in 1980, and among his other best-known works are The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test (1968) and the novel The Bonfire of the Vanities (1987).
In his later years, Wolfe continued to write novels and nonfiction, with 2000’s Hooking Up and 2016’s The Kingdom of Speech being his most recent nonfiction efforts. A Man in Full (1998), I Am Charlotte Simmons (2004) and Back to Blood (2012) are his most recent fiction works.
The white suit-and-homburg-hat-wearing Wolfe became a fixture of social circles in New York over the years, and was known for his trademark stylish quirk. In spite of the reputation, Wolfe—who famously voted for George W. Bush in 2004, and mocked criticism levied at him by the literary world—was known to be flippant about assumptions relating to his public persona. During the week-long celebrations surrounding the 1967 National Book Awards, for instance, Wolfe told a PW reporter: “I’m very anti-hip. Hipness is the worst pose in the world….Hipness is a way of competing for status without doing anything.”
Regardless, the influence of his brand is clear. For instance, Wolfe has been parodied in pop culture, most prominently on The Simpsons episode “Moe’N’a Lisa” in 2006, in which he voiced himself, and was featured alongside fellow writers Jonathan Franzen, Gore Vidal, and Michael Chabon. In addition, idioms Wolfe can claim to have coined over his life include the phrases “radical chic,” “the ‘Me’ Decade,” and, from the book, “the right stuff.”
Correction: Wolfe was 88 at time of death.