Re­mem­ber­ing Tom Wolfe

Ottawa Citizen - - FRONT PAGE - Hil­lel italie

NEW YORK • Tom Wolfe, the white-suited wiz­ard of “New Jour­nal­ism” who ex­u­ber­antly chron­i­cled Amer­i­can cul­ture from the Merry Pranksters through the space race be­fore turn­ing his satiric wit to such nov­els as The Bon­fire of the Van­i­ties and A Man in Full, has died. He was 88.

Wolfe’s lit­er­ary agent, Lynn Nes­bit, said he died of an in­fec­tion Mon­day in a New York City hospi­tal. Fur­ther de­tails were not im­me­di­ately avail­able.

An acolyte of French nov­el­ist Emile Zola and other au­thors of “re­al­is­tic” fic­tion, the stylishly at­tired Wolfe was an Amer­i­can mav­er­ick who in­sisted that the only way to tell a great story was to go out and re­port it. Along with Gay Talese, Tru­man Capote and Nora Ephron, he helped demon­strate that jour­nal­ism could of­fer the kinds of lit­er­ary plea­sure found in books.

His hy­per­bolic, styl­ized writ­ing work was a glee­ful fusil­lade of ex­cla­ma­tion points, ital­ics and im­prob­a­ble words. An in­ge­nious phrase maker, he helped brand such ex­pres­sions as “rad­i­cal chic” for rich lib­er­als’ fas­ci­na­tion with rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies; and the “Me” gen­er­a­tion, defining the self­ab­sorbed baby boomers of the 1970s.

Wolfe was both a lit­er­ary up­start, sneer­ing at the per­ceived stuffi­ness of the pub­lish­ing es­tab­lish­ment, and an old-school gen­tle­man who went to the best schools and en­cour­aged Michael Lewis and other younger writ­ers. When at­tend­ing pro­mo­tional lun­cheons with fel­low au­thors, he would make a point of read­ing their lat­est work.

“What I hope peo­ple know about him is that he was a sweet and gen­er­ous man,” Lewis, known for such books as Money­ball and The Big Short, said Tues­day. “Not just a great writer but a great soul. He didn’t just help me to be­come a writer. He did it with plea­sure.”

Wolfe’s work broke count­less rules but was grounded in old-school jour­nal­ism, in an ob­ses­sive at­ten­tion to de­tail that be­gan with his first re­port­ing job and en­dured for decades.

Born in Rich­mond, Va., the grand­son of a Con­fed­er­ate ri­fle­man, Wolfe be­gan his jour­nal­ism ca­reer as a re­porter in 1957. But it wasn’t un­til the mid-1960s, while a mag­a­zine writer for New York and Esquire, that his work made him a na­tional trend­set­ter. As Wolfe helped de­fine it, the “new jour­nal­ism” com­bined the emo­tional im­pact of a novel, the anal­y­sis of the best es­says, and the fac­tual foun­da­tion of hard re­port­ing.

Tom Wolfe

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