Tom Wolfe photographed by Irving Penn, 1966
NEW YORK TIMES: Tom Wolfe, an innovative journalist and novelist whose technicolor, wildly punctuated prose brought to life the worlds of California surfers, car customizers, astronauts and Manhattan’s moneyed status-seekers in works like “The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby,” “The Right Stuff” and “Bonfire of the Vanities,” died on Monday in a Manhattan hospital. He was 88. His death was confirmed by his agent, Lynn Nesbit, who said Mr. Wolfe had been hospitalized with an infection. He had lived in New York since joining The New York Herald Tribune as a reporter in 1962.
In his use of novelistic techniques in his nonfiction, Mr. Wolfe, beginning in the 1960s, helped create the enormously influential hybrid known as the New Journalism. But as an unabashed contrarian, he was almost as well known for his attire as his satire. He was instantly recognizable as he strolled down Madison Avenue — a tall, slender, blue-eyed, still boyish-looking man in his spotless three-piece vanilla bespoke suit, pinstriped silk shirt with a starched white high collar, bright handkerchief peeking from his breast pocket, watch on a fob, faux spats and white shoes. Once asked to describe his get-up, Mr. Wolfe replied brightly, “Neo-pretentious.”
It was a typically wry response from a writer who found delight in lacerating the pretentiousness of others. He had a pitiless eye and a penchant for spotting trends and then giving them names, some of which — like “Radical Chic” and “the Me Decade” — became American idioms. His talent as a writer and caricaturist was evident from the start in his verbal pyrotechnics and perfect mimicry of speech patterns, his meticulous reporting, and his creative use of pop language and explosive punctuation.
“As a titlist of flamboyance he is without peer in the Western world,” Joseph Epstein wrote in the The New Republic. “His prose style is normally shotgun baroque, sometimes edging over into machine-gun rococo, as in his article on Las Vegas which begins by repeating the word ‘hernia’ 57 times.” William F. Buckley Jr., writing in National Review, put it more simply: “He is probably the most skillful writer in America — I mean by that he can do more things with words than anyone else.” MORE
FRESH AIR: Tom Wolfe wasn’t interested in fitting in. In his signature white suit, the best-selling author and journalist described himself as “the village information gatherer.” “For me, it is much more effective to arrive in any situation as a man from Mars,” he told Fresh Air‘s Terry Gross in 1987. Wolfe died Monday in a Manhattan hospital. He was 88. Wolfe was at the vanguard of “new journalism” in the 1960s and 1970s. At that time, he said, journalists were expected to assume a “neutral” or “objective” voice. “I frankly found it absolutely boring,” he said — and made “a great game and a great experiment” of using “techniques that short story writers and novelists use.” His works included The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, The Right Stuff and The Bonfire of the Vanities. Wolfe spoke with Fresh Air‘s Terry Gross in 1987 and with Dave Davies in 2012. We remember Wolfe with excerpts from those two interviews below. MORE