Few journalists have endeavored to crawl inside their subjects like Tom Wolfe. By applying the techniques, forms, and comic flare of fiction to the practice of reportage, he essentially created a new genre of writing. He gets inside people's heads, documenting... [more]
Few journalists have endeavored to crawl inside their subjects like Tom Wolfe. By applying the techniques, forms, and comic flare of fiction to the practice of reportage, he essentially created a new genre of writing. He gets inside people's heads, documenting almost every strange alcove of American life with a detailed, flamboyant realism.
After earning his Ph.D. in American Studies from Yale, then auditioning to be a pitcher for the New York Giants (he didn't make it), Wolfe took up the journalistic pen. But it wasn't until 1963 that his particular style emerged, when he stumbled on a case of writer's block while working at Esquire magazine. When he couldn't finish an article on customized cars, he instead submitted a long, detailed stream of brain blather -- which he assumed would be restructured by someone else. Instead, the editor published the notes as they were, and so began the career that would propel Wolfe into the spotlight.
"The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test" was the first book to associate Wolfe's name with New Journalism in the public mind. Wolfe was the eye that peered into the crazy world of Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters as they tripped around mid-1960s America. By minutely describing the eccentric lifestyle of the group and its experiments in interpersonal dynamics, Wolfe brought journalism into a far more intimate space than it had previously known. Two years later, Wolfe was onto very different things: as the racial tensions of the '60s heated up, he filed a report from a party thrown by Leonard and Felicia Bernstein to benefit the Black Panthers. To explain the motives of these rich New Yorkers in feting a group of antiestablishment militants, Wolfe invented the phrase "radical chic."
Wolfe's first novel, "The Bonfire of the Vanities," hit the stands to immediate acclaim. A satirical look at the "me" decade of the '80s, the book details a series of accidental encounters that start when a yuppie stockbroker gets in trouble in New York's South Bronx. As improbabilities and coincidences spin racial politics out of control, the book becomes increasingly tangled, torn, and internally divided -- no one is exempt from personal ugliness. According to Wolfe, the book was intended to excavate the "dirt of everyday life." This same dirt fuels his latest fiction, "A Man in Full," which carries his expose of American values into the '90s.
Over time Wolfe has investigated many a fertile plot of American ground. From modern architecture to NASA, racial politics to acid-heads, his work spans an enormously diverse terrain. The common thread that runs through this diversity is, of course, the diversity of America itself, the seemingly infinite variety of social pockets that make up its fabric. [show less]