Tom Wolfe Essay New Journalism Wikipedia

The New Journalism is a 1973 anthology of journalism edited by Tom Wolfe and E. W. Johnson. The book is both a manifesto for a new type of journalism by Wolfe, and a collection of examples of New Journalism by American writers, covering a variety of subjects from the frivolous (baton twirling competitions) to the deadly serious (the Vietnam War). The pieces are notable because they do not conform to the standard dispassionate and even-handed model of journalism. Rather they incorporate literary devices usually only found in fictional works.


The first section of the book consists of four previously published texts by Wolfe: The Feature Game and Like a Novel (published as The Birth of “The New Journalism”: An Eyewitness Report and The New Journalism: A la Recherche des Whichy Thickets, in the New York Magazine, on February 14 and February 21, 1972); Seizing the Power and Appendix (published as Why They Aren't Writing the Great American Novel Anymore, in Esquire, December 1972).

The text is a diatribe against the American novel which Wolfe sees as having hit a dead end by moving away from realism, and his opinion that journalism is much more relevant. In effect, his manifesto is for mixing journalism with literary techniques to document in a more effective way than the novel. These techniques were most likely inspired by writers of social realism, such as Émile Zola and Charles Dickens. His manifesto for New Journalism (although he had no great affection for the term) has four main points.

  • Scene by scene construction. Rather than rely on second-hand accounts and background information, Wolfe considers it necessary for the journalist to witness events first hand, and to recreate them for the reader.
  • Dialogue. By recording dialogue as fully as possible, the journalist is not only reporting words, but defining and establishing character, as well as involving the reader.
  • The third person. Instead of simply reporting the facts, the journalist has to give the reader a real feeling of the events and people involved. One technique for achieving this is to treat the protagonists like characters in a novel. What is their motivation? What are they thinking?
  • Status details. Just as important as the characters and the events, are the surroundings, specifically what people surround themselves with. Wolfe describes these items as the tools for a "social autopsy", so we can see people as they see themselves.


Part two, which makes of the major part of The New Journalism, consists of twenty-four texts, collected by Wolfe and Johnson. Every text features a short introduction, written by Wolfe.


Truman Capote, In Cold Blood[edit]

The excerpt from In Cold Blood, is the fifth text in the anthology. The excerpt is taken from the third chapter titled Answers. In Cold Blood was initially, published as a four-part serial in The New Yorker, beginning with the September 25, 1965 issue. Answers, which was the third part, was published in the October 25 issue. The book details the brutal 1959 murders of Herbert Clutter, a wealthy farmer from Holcomb, Kansas, and his wife and two of their children. When Capote learned of the quadruple murder before the killers were captured, he decided to travel to Kansas and write about the crime. Bringing his childhood friend and fellow author Harper Lee along, together they interviewed local residents and investigators assigned to the case and took thousands of pages of notes. The killers, Richard "Dick" Hickock and Perry Smith, were arrested not long after the murders, and Capote ultimately spent six years working on the book. It is considered the originator of the non-fiction novel and the forerunner of the New Journalism movement, although other writers, like Rodolfo Walsh, had already explored the genre in books like Operación Masacre.

In the introduction Wolfe writes “For all his attention to novelistic technique, however, Capote does not use point of view in as sophisticated way as he does in fiction. One seldom feels that he is really inside of the minds of the characters. One gets a curious blend of third-person point of view and omniscient narration. Capote probably had sufficient information to use point of view in a more complex fashion but was not yet ready to let himself go in nonfiction.”

Robert Christgau, Beth Ann and Macrobioticism[edit]

Beth Ann and Macrobioticism, by Robert Christgau, is the 20th text in the anthology. It was Christgau's first magazine article[1] In 1965 Christgau was a reporter for the Dorf Feature Service in Newark, NJ.

TitleAuthorFirst PublishedMagazine/Newspaper First Published inBook Published in
In Cold Blood !Excerpt from In Cold BloodCapote, Truman !Truman Capote000000001965-09-25-0000September 25, 1965The New YorkerIn Cold Blood
Beth Ann and MacrobioticismChristgau, Robert !Robert Christgau000000001965-01-01-00001965New York Herald Tribunezzz !-
Some Dreamers of the Golden DreamDidion, Joan !Joan Didion000000001966-05-07-0000May 7, 1966The Saturday Evening PostSlouching Towards Bethlehem
That's What We Come to Minneapolis For,’ Stan Hough said !‘That's What We Come to Minneapolis For,’ Stan Hough saidDunne, John Gregory !John Gregory Dunne000000001969-01-01-00001969zzz !-Studio !The Studio
Charlie Simpson's ApocalypseEszterhas, Joe !Joe Eszterhas000000001972-07-06-0000July 6, 1972Rolling Stonezzz !-
La Dolce VivaGoldsmith, Barbara !Barbara Goldsmith000000001968-04-29-0000April 29, 1968New York Magazinezzz !-
GearGoldstein, Richard !Richard Goldstein000000001969-01-01-00001969The Village Voicezzz !-
KhesanhHerr, Michael !Michael Herr000000001965-09-01-0000September 1965[2]Esquire[2]zzz !-
Armies of the Night !Excerpt from The Armies of the NightMailer, Norman !Norman Mailer000000001968-01-01-00001968zzz !-Armies of the Night !The Armies of the Night
Selling of the President !Excerpt from The Selling of the President 1968McGinniss, Joe !Joe McGinniss000000001969-01-01-00001969zzz !-Selling of the President !The Selling of the President 1968
Detective !The DetectiveMills, James !James Mills000000001965-12-03-0000December 3, 1965[2]LIFE[2]zzz !-
Paper lion !Excerpt from Paper LionPlimpton, George !George Plimpton000000001966-01-01-00001966zzz !-Paper Lion
Ava: Life in the AfternoonReed, Red !Rex Reed000000001967-05-01-0000May 1967[3]Esquire'Do You Sleep in the Nude?
Timing and a Diversion: The Cocoa GameSmith, Adam !"Adam Smith"(pen name for George Goodman)New York World Journal TribuneMoney Game !The Money Game
M !Excerpt from MSack, John !John Sack000000001966-10-01-0000October 1966[4]Esquire[4]M
Twirling at Ole MissSouthern, Terry !Terry Southern000000001963-02-01-0000February 1963[5]Esquire[5]Red-Dirt Marijuana and Other Tastes
Soft Psyche of Joshua Logan !The Soft Psyche of Joshua LoganTalese, Gay !Gay Talese000000001963-04-01-0000April 1963[6]Esquire[6]zzz !-
Hell's Angels !Excerpt from Hell's AngelsThompson, Hunter S. !Hunter S. Thompson000000001966-01-01-00001966zzz !-Hell's Angels
Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved !The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and DepravedThompson, Hunter S. !Hunter S. Thompson000000001970-06-01-0000June 1970Scanlan's Monthlyzzz !-
The General Goes Zapping Charlie Cong !The General Goes Zapping Charlie CongTomalin, Nicholas !Nicholas Tomalin000000001966-06-05-0000June 5, 1966[2]The Times[2]zzz !-
Martin Luther King is Still on the Casewills, Garry !Garry Wills000000001968-08-01-0000August 1968[2]Esquire[2]zzz !-
Fugitive !The FugitiveWolfe, Tom !Tom Wolfe000000001968-01-01-00001968zzz !-Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test !The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test
Radical Chic & Mau-Mauing the Flak CatchersWolfe, Tom !Tom Wolfe000000001970-06-08-0000June 8, 1970[2]New York Magazine[2]zzz !-


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Primary sources[edit]

  • Murphy, James E. (May 1974). Westley, Bruce H., ed. "The New Journalism: A Critical Perspective". Journalism Monographs. The Association for Education in Journalism. 34. 
  • Weingarten, Marc (2006). The Gang That Wouldn't Write Straight: Wolfe, Thompson, Didion, and the New Journalism Revolution. Crown Publishers. ISBN 1-4000-4914-8. 
  • Wolfe, Tom; Johnson, E. W. (1973). The New Journalism. Harper & Row. ISBN 0-06-014707-5. 

Contemporary reviews[edit]

The New Journalism

Texts in the anthology

Secondary sources[edit]

  • Capote, Truman (1966). In Cold Blood. Vintage. ISBN 0-679-74558-0. 
  • Truman, Capote (October 9, 1965). "Annals of Crime: In Cold Blood: III Answers". The New Yorker. pp. 58–183. 
  • Cartwright, Garth (May 12, 2001). "Master of the Rock Review". The Guardian. Guardian Media Group. 
  • Didion, Joan (May 7, 1966). "Some Dreamers of the Golden Dream". The Saturday Evening Post. 
  • Dunne, John Gregory (1969). The Studio. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. ISBN 0-374-27112-7. 
  • McQuade, Donald, ed. (1974). Popular Writing in America: The Interaction of Style and Audience. Oxford University Press. 
  • Plimpton, George (September 7, 1964). "Zero of the Lions". Sports Illustrated. Time Warner. 
  • Russello, Gerald J. (November 21, 2005). "How New Journalism Became Old News". The New York Sun. ONE SL LLC. 
  • Sack, John (October 1966). "M". Esquire. Hearst Corporation. 
  • Schuster, Mel, ed. (1971). Motion Picture Performers: A Bibliography of Magazine and Periodical Articles, 1900-1969. Scarecrow Press. ISBN 0-8108-0407-7. 
  • Tate, Ryan (December 9, 2008). "The Nude Photos That Nearly Destroyed New York". Gawker Media. 
  • Thompson, Hunter S. (May 17, 1965). "The Motorcycle Gangs, Losers and Outsiders". The Nation. Katrina vanden Heuvel. 
  • Tomalin, Nicholas (June 5, 1966). "The General Goes Zapping Charlie Cong". The Times. News Corporation. 
  • Wolfe, Tom (July 14, 2008). "A City Built of Clay". New York Magazine. New York Media LLC. 
  • Wolfe, Tom (February 14, 1972). "The Birth of 'The New Journalism'; Eyewitness Report by Tom Wolfe". New York Magazine. New York Media LLC. p. 44. 
  • Wolfe, Tom (February 21, 1972). "The New Journalism: A la Recherche des Whichy Thickets". New York Magazine. New York Media LLC. p. 152. 
  • Wolfe, Tom (December 1972). "Why They Aren't Writing the Great American Novel Anymore". Esquire. Hearst Corporation. 
  • "The 7 Greatest Stories in the History of Esquire Magazine". Esquire. Hearst Corporation. November 30, 2009. Retrieved December 31, 2009. 
  1. ^Wolfe & Johnson, 1973, p. 363.
  2. ^ abcdefghijWolfe & Johnson, 1973, Acknowledgments.
  3. ^Schuster 1974, p. 265.
  4. ^ abEsquire Magazine. November 30, 2009.
  5. ^ abMcQuade 1974, p. 290.
  6. ^ abWeingarten 2006, p. 298.

Not to be confused with Thomas Wolfe or Tom Wolf.

Tom Wolfe

Wolfe at the White House in 2004

BornThomas Kennerly Wolfe Jr.
(1931-03-02) March 2, 1931 (age 87)
Richmond, Virginia, U.S.
OccupationJournalist, author
Literary movementNew Journalism
Notable worksThe Painted Word, The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, The Right Stuff, A Man in Full, Radical Chic & Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers, The Bonfire of the Vanities, I Am Charlotte Simmons, Back to Blood
SpouseSheila Wolfe

Thomas Kennerly Wolfe Jr. (born March 2, 1931)[1] is an American author and journalist, best known for his association with and influence in stimulating the New Journalism literary movement, in which literary techniques are used extensively. He reduced traditional values of journalistic objectivity.

He began his career as a regional newspaper reporter in the 1950s, but achieved national prominence in the 1960s following the publication of such best-selling books as The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test (a highly experimental account of Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters), and two collections of articles and essays, Radical Chic & Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers and The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby.

His first novel, The Bonfire of the Vanities, published in 1987, was met with critical acclaim, and also became a commercial success. It was adapted as a major motion picture of the same name, directed by Brian De Palma.

Early life and education[edit]

Wolfe was born in Richmond, Virginia, the son of Louise (née Agnew), a landscape designer, and Thomas Kennerly Wolfe Sr., an agronomist.[2][3]

Wolfe grew up on Gloucester Road in the historic Richmond North Side neighborhood of Sherwood Park. He recounts childhood memories in a foreword to a book about the nearby historic Ginter Park neighborhood.

Wolfe was student council president, editor of the school newspaper, and a star baseball player at St. Christopher's School, an Episcopal all-boys school in Richmond.

Upon graduation in 1947, he turned down admission to Princeton University to attend Washington and Lee University, both all-male schools at the time. At Washington and Lee, Wolfe was a member of the Phi Kappa Sigma fraternity. Wolfe majored in English and practiced his writing outside the classroom as well. He was the sports editor of the college newspaper and helped found a literary magazine, Shenandoah. Of particular influence was his professor Marshall Fishwick, a teacher of American studies educated at Yale. More in the tradition of anthropology than literary scholarship, Fishwick taught his classes to look at the whole of a culture, including those elements considered profane.[citation needed] Wolfe's undergraduate thesis, entitled "A Zoo Full of Zebras: Anti-Intellectualism in America," evinced his fondness for words and aspirations toward cultural criticism. Wolfe graduated cum laude in 1951.

Wolfe had continued playing baseball as a pitcher and had begun to play semi-professionally while still in college. In 1952 he earned a tryout with the New York Giants but was cut after three days, which Wolfe blamed on his inability to throw good fastballs. Wolfe abandoned baseball and instead followed his professor Fishwick's example, enrolling in Yale University's American studies doctoral program. His PhD thesis was titled The League of American Writers: Communist Organizational Activity Among American Writers, 1929–1942.[4] In the course of his research, Wolfe interviewed many writers, including Malcolm Cowley, Archibald MacLeish, and James T. Farrell.[5] A biographer remarked on the thesis: "Reading it, one sees what has been the most baleful influence of graduate education on many who have suffered through it: it deadens all sense of style."[6] His thesis was originally rejected but it was finally accepted after he rewrote it in an objective rather than a subjective style. Upon leaving Yale, he wrote a friend explaining through expletives his personal opinions about his thesis.

Journalism and New Journalism[edit]

Though Wolfe was offered teaching jobs in academia, he opted to work as a reporter. In 1956, while still preparing his thesis, Wolfe became a reporter for the Springfield Union in Springfield, Massachusetts. Wolfe finished his thesis in 1957.

In 1959 he was hired by The Washington Post. Wolfe has said that part of the reason he was hired by the Post was his lack of interest in politics. The Post's city editor was "amazed that Wolfe preferred cityside to Capitol Hill, the beat every reporter wanted." He won an award from The Newspaper Guild for foreign reporting in Cuba in 1961 and also won the Guild's award for humor. While there, Wolfe experimented with fiction-writing techniques in feature stories.[7]

In 1962, Wolfe left Washington for New York City, taking a position with the New York Herald Tribune as a general assignment reporter and feature writer. The editors of the Herald Tribune, including Clay Felker of the Sunday section supplement New York magazine, encouraged their writers to break the conventions of newspaper writing.[8] During the 1962 New York City newspaper strike, Wolfe approached Esquire magazine about an article on the hot rod and custom car culture of Southern California. He struggled with the article until his editor, Byron Dobell, suggested that Wolfe send him his notes so they could piece the story together.

Wolfe procrastinated. The evening before the deadline, he typed a letter to Dobell explaining what he wanted to say on the subject, ignoring all journalistic conventions. Dobell's response was to remove the salutation "Dear Byron" from the top of the letter and publish it intact as reportage. The result, published in 1963, was "There Goes (Varoom! Varoom!) That Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby." The article was widely discussed—loved by some, hated by others. Its notoriety helped Wolfe gain publication of his first book, The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby, a collection of his writings from the Herald-Tribune, Esquire, and other publications.[9]

This was what Wolfe called New Journalism, in which some journalists and essayists experimented with a variety of literary techniques, mixing them with the traditional ideal of dispassionate, even-handed reporting. Wolfe experimented with four literary devices not normally associated with feature writing: scene-by-scene construction, extensive dialogue, multiple points of view, and detailed description of individuals' status-life symbols (the material choices people make) in writing this stylized form of journalism. He later referred to this style as literary journalism.[10] Of the use of status symbols, Wolfe has said, "I think every living moment of a human being’s life, unless the person is starving or in immediate danger of death in some other way, is controlled by a concern for status."[11]

Wolfe also championed what he called “saturation reporting,” a reportorial approach in which the journalist “shadows” and observes the subject over an extended period of time. “To pull it off,” says Wolfe, “you casually have to stay with the people you are writing about for long stretches . . . long enough so that you are actually there when revealing scenes take place in their lives.”[12] Saturation reporting differs from “in-depth” and “investigative” reporting, which involve the direct interviewing of numerous sources and/or the extensive analyzing of external documents relating to the story. Saturation reporting, according to communication professor Richard Kallan, “entails a more complex set of relationships wherein the journalist becomes an involved, more fully reactive witness, no longer distanced and detached from the people and events reported.”[13]

Wolfe's The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test is considered a striking example of New Journalism. This account of the Merry Pranksters, a famous sixties counter-culture group, was highly experimental in Wolfe's use of onomatopoeia, free association, and eccentric punctuation—such as multiple exclamation marks and italics—to convey the manic ideas and personalities of Ken Kesey and his followers.

In addition to his own work, Wolfe edited a collection of New Journalism with E.W. Johnson, published in 1973 and titled The New Journalism. This book published pieces by Truman Capote, Hunter S. Thompson, Norman Mailer, Gay Talese, Joan Didion, and several other well-known writers, with the common theme of journalism that incorporated literary techniques and that could be considered literature.[14]

Non-fiction books[edit]

In 1965, Wolfe published a collection of his articles in this style, The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby, adding to his notability. He published a second collection of articles, The Pump House Gang, in 1968. Wolfe wrote on popular culture, architecture, politics, and other topics that underscored, among other things, how American life in the 1960s had been transformed by post-WWII economic prosperity. His defining work from this era is The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test (published the same day as The Pump House Gang in 1968), which for many epitomized the 1960s. Although a conservative in many ways (in 2008, he claimed never to have used LSD and to have tried marijuana only once[15]) Wolfe became one of the notable figures of the decade.

In 1970, he published two essays in book form as Radical Chic & Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers. "Radical Chic" was a biting account of a party given by composer and conductor Leonard Bernstein to raise money for the Black Panther Party. "Mau-Mauing The Flak Catchers" was about the practice by some African Americans of using racial intimidation ("mau-mauing") to extract funds from government welfare bureaucrats ("flak catchers"). Wolfe's phrase, "radical chic", soon became a popular derogatory term for critics to apply to upper-class leftism. His Mauve Gloves & Madmen, Clutter & Vine (1977) included Wolfe's noted essay, "The Me Decade and the Third Great Awakening."

In 1979, Wolfe published The Right Stuff, an account of the pilots who became America's first astronauts. Following their training and unofficial, even foolhardy, exploits, he likened these heroes to "single combat champions" of a bygone era, going forth to battle in the space race on behalf of their country. In 1983, the book was adapted as a successful feature film.

In 2016 Wolfe published The Kingdom of Speech, a controversial critique of the work of Charles Darwin and Noam Chomsky. His take on how humans developed speech was described as opinionated and not supported by research.[16][17]

Art critiques[edit]

Wolfe also wrote two critiques of and social histories of modern art and modern architecture, The Painted Word and From Bauhaus to Our House, published in 1975 and 1981, respectively. The Painted Word mocked the excessive insularity of the art world and its dependence on what he saw as faddish critical theory. In From Bauhaus to Our House he explored what he said were the negative effects of the Bauhaus style on the evolution of modern architecture.[18]

Made for TV movie[edit]

In 1977 PBS produced Tom Wolfe's Los Angeles, a fictional, satirical TV movie set in Los Angeles. Wolfe appears in the movie as himself.[19]


Throughout his early career, Wolfe had planned to write a novel to capture the wide reach of American society. Among his models was William Makepeace Thackeray's Vanity Fair, which described the society of 19th-century England. In 1981, he ceased his other work to concentrate on the novel.

Wolfe began researching the novel by observing cases at the Manhattan Criminal Court and shadowing members of the Bronx homicide squad. While the research came easily, he encountered difficulty in writing. To overcome his writer's block, Wolfe wrote to Jann Wenner, editor of Rolling Stone, to propose an idea drawn from Charles Dickens and Thackeray: to serialize his novel. Wenner offered Wolfe around $200,000 to serialize his work.[20] The frequent deadline pressure gave him the motivation he had hoped for, and from July 1984 to August 1985, he published a new installment in each biweekly issue of Rolling Stone.

Later Wolfe was unhappy with his "very public first draft"[21] and thoroughly revised his work, even changing his protagonist Sherman McCoy. Wolfe had originally made him a writer but recast him as a bond salesman. Wolfe researched and revised for two years, and his The Bonfire of the Vanities was published in 1987. The book was a commercial and critical success, spending weeks on bestseller lists and earning praise from the very literary establishment on which Wolfe had long heaped scorn.[22]

Because of the success of Wolfe's first novel, there was widespread interest in his second. This novel took him more than 11 years to complete; A Man in Full was published in 1998. The book's reception was not universally favorable, though it received glowing reviews in Time, Newsweek, The Wall Street Journal, and elsewhere. An initial printing of 1.2 million copies was announced and the book stayed at number one on the New York Times bestseller list for ten weeks. Noted author John Updike wrote a critical review for The New Yorker, complaining that the novel "amounts to entertainment, not literature, even literature in a modest aspirant form."[citation needed] His comments sparked an intense war of words in the print and broadcast media among Wolfe and Updike, and authors John Irving and Norman Mailer, who also entered the fray.

In 2001, Wolfe published an essay referring to these three authors as "My Three Stooges."[citation needed] That year he also published Hooking Up (a collection of short pieces, including the 1997 novella Ambush at Fort Bragg). ,

He published his third novel, I Am Charlotte Simmons (2004), chronicling the decline of a poor, bright scholarship student from Alleghany County, North Carolina, after attending an elite university. He conveys an institution filled with snobbery, materialism, anti-intellectualism, and sexual promiscuity. The novel met with a mostly tepid response by critics. Many social conservatives praised it in the belief that its portrayal revealed widespread moral decline. The novel won a Bad Sex in Fiction Award from the London-based Literary Review, a prize established "to draw attention to the crude, tasteless, often perfunctory use of redundant passages of sexual description in the modern novel".[citation needed] Wolfe later explained that such sexual references were deliberately clinical.[citation needed]

Wolfe has written that his goal in writing fiction is to document contemporary society in the tradition of John Steinbeck, Charles Dickens, and Émile Zola.

Wolfe announced in early 2008 that he was leaving his longtime publisher, Farrar, Straus and Giroux. His fourth novel, Back to Blood, was published in October 2012 by Little, Brown. According to The New York Times, Wolfe was paid close to US$7 million for the book.[23] According to the publisher, Back to Blood is about "class, family, wealth, race, crime, sex, corruption and ambition in Miami, the city where America's future has arrived first."[24]

Recurring themes[edit]

Wolfe revisits particular themes in both his non-fiction writing and novels. He explores male power-jockeying, in The Bonfire of the Vanities, A Man in Full, and I Am Charlotte Simmons, as well as several of his journalistic pieces. Male characters in his fiction often suffer from feelings of extreme inadequacy or hugely inflated egos, sometimes alternating between both.

He satirizes racial politics, most commonly between whites and blacks; he also highlights class divisions between characters. He describes men's fashions to indicate economic status.

Much of his recent work also addresses neuroscience. He notes his fascination in "Sorry, Your Soul Just Died," one of the essays in Hooking Up. This topic is also featured in I Am Charlotte Simmons, as the title character is a student of neuroscience. Wolfe describes the characters' thought and emotional processes, such as fear, humiliation and lust, in the clinical terminology of brain chemistry. Wolfe also frequently gives detailed descriptions of various aspects of his characters' anatomies.[25]

Two of his novels (A Man in Full and I Am Charlotte Simmons) feature major characters (Conrad Hensley and Jojo Johanssen, respectively) who begin paths to self-discovery by reading classical Roman and Greek philosophy.

Wolfe names law and banking firms satirically, formed by the surnames of the partners. For instance, "Dunning, Sponget and Leach" and "Curry, Goad and Pesterall" appear in The Bonfire of the Vanities, and "Wringer, Fleasom and Tick" in A Man in Full. Ambush at Fort Bragg contains a law firm called "Crotalus, Adder, Cobran and Krate" (all names or homophones of venomous snakes).

Some characters appear in multiple novels, creating a sense of a "universe" that is continuous throughout Wolfe's fiction. The character of Freddy Button, a lawyer from Bonfire of the Vanities, is mentioned briefly in I Am Charlotte Simmons. A character named Ronald Vine, an interior decorator who is mentioned in The Bonfire of the Vanities, reappears in A Man in Full as the designer of Charlie Croker's home.

He describes a fictional sexual practice, called "that thing with the cup", both in novels and a non-fiction essay in Hooking Up.

White suit[edit]

Wolfe adopted wearing a white suit as a trademark in 1962. He bought his first white suit, planning to wear it in the summer, in the style of Southern gentlemen. However, he found that the suit he purchased was too heavy for summer use, so he wore it in winter, which created a sensation. At the time, white suits were supposed to be reserved for summer wear.[26] Wolfe has maintained this as a trademark ever since. He sometimes accompanies it with a white tie, white homburg hat, and two-tone shoes. Wolfe has said that the outfit disarms the people he observes, making him, in their eyes, "a man from Mars, the man who didn't know anything and was eager to know."[27]


In 1989, Wolfe wrote an essay for Harper's Magazine titled "Stalking the Billion-Footed Beast". It criticized modern American novelists for failing to engage fully with their subjects, and suggested that modern literature could be saved by a greater reliance on journalistic technique.[28] This attack on the mainstream literary establishment was interpreted as a boast that Wolfe's work was superior to that of more highly regarded authors.[citation needed]

Wolfe supported George W. Bush as a political candidate and said he voted for him for president in 2004 because of what he called Bush's "great decisiveness and willingness to fight."[citation needed] (Bush apparently reciprocates the admiration, and is said to have read all of Wolfe's books, according to friends in 2005).[29]) After his support of Bush was publicized in a New York Times interview,[citation needed] Wolfe said that the reaction in the literary world was as if he had said, "I forgot to tell you—I'm a child molester."[citation needed] Because of this incident, he sometimes wears an American flag pin on his suit, which he compared to "holding up a cross to werewolves."[30]

Wolfe's views and choice of subject material, such as mocking left-wing intellectuals in Radical Chic and glorifying astronauts in The Right Stuff, have sometimes resulted in his being labeled conservative.[31] Due to his depiction of the Black Panther Party in Radical Chic, a member of the party called him a racist.[32] Wolfe rejects such labels. In a 2004 interview in The Guardian, he said that his "idol" in writing about society and culture is Émile Zola. Wolfe described him as "a man of the left"; one who "went out, and found a lot of ambitious, drunk, slothful and mean people out there. Zola simply could not—and was not interested in—telling a lie."[31]

Asked to comment by the Wall Street Journal on blogs in 2007 to mark the tenth anniversary of their advent, Wolfe wrote that "the universe of blogs is a universe of rumors" and that "blogs are an advance guard to the rear."[33] He also took the opportunity to criticize Wikipedia, saying that "only a primitive would believe a word of" it. He noted a story about him in his Wikipedia bio article at the time, which he said had never happened.[33]

Personal life[edit]

Wolfe lives in New York City with his wife Sheila, who designs covers for Harper's Magazine. They have two children: a daughter, Alexandra, and a son, Tommy.[34]

A writer for Examiner Magazine who interviewed Wolfe in 1998 said, "He has no computer and does not surf, or even know how to use, the Internet". He also noted, however, that Wolfe's novel A Man in Full has a subplot involving "a muckraking cyber-gossip site, à la the Drudge Report or Salon."[34]


Wolfe is credited with introducing terms like "statusphere," "the right stuff," "radical chic," "the Me Decade," "social x-ray," and "pushing the envelope", into the English lexicon.[35][dubious– discuss] He is sometimes credited with creating the term "trophy wife" as well, but this is incorrect. He described extremely thin women as "X-rays" in his novel The Bonfire of the Vanities, but did not use the term "trophy wife".[36] According to journalism professor Ben Yagoda, Wolfe emphasized writing in the present tense in magazine profile pieces; before he began doing so in the early 1960s, profile articles had always been written in the past tense.[37]

Terms coined by Wolfe[edit]

List of awards and nominations[edit]

  • 1961 Washington Newspaper Guild Award for Foreign News Reporting
  • 1961 Washington Newspaper Guild Award for Humor
  • 1970 Society of Magazine Writers Award for Excellence
  • 1971 D.F.A., Minneapolis College of Art
  • 1973 Frank Luther Mott Research Award
  • 1974 D.Litt., Washington and Lee University
  • 1977 Virginia Laureate for literature
  • 1979 National Book Critics Circle Finalist General Nonfiction Finalist for The Right Stuff
  • 1980 National Book Award for Nonfiction for The Right Stuff[38][a]
  • 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
  • 1983 L.H.D., Virginia Commonwealth University
  • 1984 L.H.D., Southampton College
  • 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
  • 1987 National Book Critics Circle fiction Finalist for The Bonfire of the Vanities
  • 1987 D.F.A., School of Visual Arts
  • 1988 L.H.D., Randolph-Macon College
  • 1988 L.H.D., Manhattanville College
  • 1989 L.H.D., Longwood College
  • 1990 St. Louis Literary Award from Saint Louis University Library Associates[39][40]
  • 1990 D.Litt., St. Andrews Presbyterian College
  • 1990 D.Litt., Johns Hopkins University
  • 1993 D.Litt., University of Richmond
  • 1998 National Book Award Finalist for A Man in Full[41]
  • 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 FoundationMedal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters[42]

Television appearances[edit]

  • Wolfe was featured as an interview subject in the 1987 PBS documentary series Space Flight.
  • In July 1975 Wolfe was interviewed on Firing Line by William F. Buckley Jr., discussing "The Painted Word".[43]
  • Wolfe was featured on the February 2006 episode "The White Stuff" of Speed Channel's Unique Whips, where his Cadillac's interior was customized to match his trademark white suit.[44]
  • Wolfe guest-starred alongside Jonathan Franzen, Gore Vidal and Michael Chabon in The Simpsons episode "Moe'N'a Lisa", which aired November 19, 2006. He was originally slated to be killed by a giant boulder, but that ending was edited out.[45] Wolfe was also used as a sight gag on The Simpsons episode "Insane Clown Poppy", which aired on November 12, 2000. Homer spills chocolate on Wolfe's trademark white suit, and Wolfe rips it off in one swift motion, revealing an identical suit underneath.




Featured in[edit]

Notable articles[edit]

  • "The Last American Hero Is Junior Johnson. Yes!" Esquire, March 1965.
  • "Tiny Mummies! The True Story of the Ruler of 43rd Street's Land of the Walking Dead!" New York Herald-Tribune supplement (April 11, 1965).
  • "Lost in the Whichy Thicket," New York Herald-Tribune supplement (April 18, 1965).
  • "The Birth of the New Journalism: Eyewitness Report by Tom Wolfe." New York, February 14, 1972.
  • "The New Journalism: A la Recherche des Whichy Thickets." New York Magazine, February 21, 1972.
  • "Why They Aren't Writing the Great American Novel Anymore." Esquire, December 1972.
  • "The Me Decade and the Third Great Awakening" New York, August 23, 1976.
  • "Stalking the Billion-Footed Beast", Harper's. November 1989.
  • "Sorry, but Your Soul Just Died." Forbes 1996.
  • "Pell Mell." The Atlantic Monthly (November 2007).
  • "The Rich Have Feelings, Too." Vanity Fair (September 2009).

See also[edit]



  1. ^Bloom, Harold. Tom Wolfe, Infobase Publishing, 2001, ISBN 0-7910-5916-2, pg. 193.
  2. ^Rolling Stone interview on May 2, 2007 (Retrieved November 15, 2008)
  3. ^Weingarten, Marc (January 1, 2006). "The Gang that Wouldn't Write Straight: Wolfe, Thompson, Didion, and the New Journalism Revolution". Crown Publishers – via Google Books. 
  4. ^Available on microform from the Yale University Libraries, Link to Entry
  5. ^Ragen 2002, pp. 6–10
  6. ^Ragen 2002, pp. 9
  7. ^Rosen, James (2006-07-02). "Tom Wolfe's Washington Post". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2007-03-09. 
  8. ^Mclellan, Dennis (July 2, 2008). "Clay Felker, 82; editor of New York magazine led New Journalism charge". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2008-11-23. 
  9. ^Ragen 2002, pp. 11–12
  10. ^Wolfe, Tom; E. W. Johnson (1973). The New Journalism. New York: Harper & Row, Publishers. pp. 31–33. ISBN 0-06-014707-5. 
  11. ^"A Guide to the Work of Tom Wolfe". 
  12. ^Wolfe, Tom (September 1970). "The New Journalism". Bulletin of American Society of Newspapers: 22. 
  13. ^Kallan, Richard A. (1992). Connery, Thomas B., ed. "Tom Wolfe". A Sourcebook of American Literary Journalism: Representative Writers in an Emerging Genre. New York: Greenwood Press: 252. 
  14. ^Ragen 2002, pp. 19–22
  15. ^"10 Questions for Tom Wolfe". Time. August 28, 2008. Retrieved May 25, 2010. 
  16. ^Coyne, Jerry (2016-08-31). "His white suit unsullied by research, Tom Wolfe tries to take down Charles Darwin and Noam Chomsky". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2016-09-01. 
  17. ^Sullivan, James (2016-08-25). "Tom Wolfe traces the often-amusing history of bickering over how humans started talking". The Boston Globe. Retrieved 2016-08-26. 
  18. ^Ragen 2002, pp. 22–29
  19. ^"Tom Wolfe's Satirical Look at Los Angeles". The Daily News of the Virgin Islands. Daily News Publishing Co., Inc. January 25, 1977. p. 18. Retrieved October 20, 2017 – via Google News Archive. 
  20. ^Ragen 2002, pp. 31
  21. ^Ragen 2002, pp. 32
  22. ^Ragen 2002, pp. 30–34
  23. ^Rich, Motoko. "Tom Wolfe Leaves Longtime Publisher, Taking His New Book", The New York Times, January 3, 2008. Retrieved January 3, 2008.
  24. ^Trachtenberg, Jeffrey A. "Tom Wolfe Changes Scenery; Iconic Author Seeks Lift With New Publisher, Miami-Centered Drama", The Wall Street Journal, January 3, 2008. Retrieved January 3, 2008.
  25. ^"Muscle-Bound". The New Yorker. 15 October 2012. 
  26. ^Ragen 2002, pp. 12
  27. ^Freeman, John (18 December 2004). "In Wolfe's clothing". The Sydney Morning Herald. 
  28. ^Wolfe, Tom (November 1989), "Stalking the Billion-Footed Beast", Harper's Magazine
  29. ^Bumiller, Elisabeth (February 7, 2005), "Bush's Official Reading List, and a Racy Omission", The New York Times. Retrieved May 15, 2010
  30. ^Rago, Joseph (March 11, 2006), "Status Reporter", The Wall Street Journal
  31. ^ abVulliamy, Ed (November 1, 2004), "'The liberal elite hasn't got a clue'", The Guardian
  32. ^Foote, Timothy (December 21, 1970). "Books: Fish in the Brandy Snifter" – via 
  33. ^ abVaradarajan, Tunku (July 14, 2007), "Happy Blogiversary", The Wall Street Journal
  34. ^ abCash, William (November 29, 1998). "Southern Man". San Francisco Chronicle. Hearst Communications. Retrieved December 12, 2015 – via 
  35. ^Tom Wolfe – Jefferson Lecturer Biography, Meredith Hindley, National Endowment for the Humanities,2006
  36. ^Safire, William (May 1, 1994). "On language; Trophy Wife". The New York Times. 
  37. ^Yagoda, Ben (2007). When You Catch an Adjective, Kill It. Broadway Books. p. 228. ISBN 9780767920773. 
  38. ^"National Book Awards – 1980". National Book Foundation. Retrieved 2012-03-11.
  39. ^"Saint Louis Literary Award". Saint Louis University. 
  40. ^"Recipients of the Saint Louis Literary Award". Saint Louis University Library Associates. Retrieved July 25, 2016. 
  41. ^"National Book Awards – 1998". National Book Foundation. Retrieved 2012-03-11. 
  42. ^"Distinguished Contribution to American Letters". National Book Foundation. Includes Wolfe's acceptance speech. Retrieved 2012-03-11. 
  43. ^Scura, Dorothy McInnis (January 1, 1990). "Conversations with Tom Wolfe". Univ. Press of Mississippi – via Google Books. 
  44. ^"The White Stuff". March 8, 2006 – via IMDb. 
  45. ^Bond, Corey (November 30, 2005). "Crisis on Infinite Springfields: "Tom Wolfe Is Screaming"". 
  46. ^"About Tom Wolfe". 
  • Bloom, Harold, ed. (2001), Tom Wolfe (Modern Critical Views), Philadelphia: Chelsea House Publishers, ISBN 0-7910-5916-2 
  • McKeen, William. (1995), Tom Wolfe


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