Beach Reads

Hamptonite and Literary Lion Tom Wolfe Dies at 88

The New Journalism pioneer changed the writing paradigm around the world.

Hamptons and New York resident Tom Wolfe, the legendary author of The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, The Bonfire of the Vanities, The Right Stuff and many others, died of an infection in a Manhattan hospital on Monday. He was 88 years old and leaves behind his wife Sheila Wolfe, daughter Alexandra and son Tommy.

Instantly recognizable by his famous white suits and rakish hats, Wolfe was a regular figure on the Hamptons scene, often attending the Hampton Classic Horse Show and other social affairs. He even graced the 2015 Dan’s Literary Festival with a keynote speech.

Dan's Papers founder Dan Rattiner and author Tom Wolfe
Dan’s Papers founder Dan Rattiner and author Tom Wolfe

Wolfe was a celebrated author of both fiction and nonfiction, starting his national career as a reporter The Washington Post and then the New York Herald Tribune, where he began writing in the “New Journalism” style of the early 1960s.

As Wolfe mastered the art of telling true accounts with a novelist’s flair, often in the first-person, he grew to prominence. This eventually led him to pen classics, such as his 1965 collection of essays That Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby and 1968’s The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, which chronicles his experiences with 60s counterculture figure Ken Kesey and his Merry Pranksters.

In 1973, Wolfe and E. W. Johnson literally wrote the book on New Journalism when they put together a paradigm-shifting collection of writing called The New Journalism. Comprising Wolfe’s own writing, along with stories by literary giants such as Hunter S. Thompson, George Plimpton, Joan Didion, Truman Capote, Norman Mailer and others, it was a manifesto of sorts arguing that the novel had drifted too far from realism. It suggested that the future was all about true stories told using literary techniques typically found in fiction.

This work and Wolfe’s writing helped usher in a style which is now the basis for a large portion of today’s most popular books.

Tom Wolfe
Tom Wolfe. Photo credit: Tom W. Ratcliffe III

Wolfe did begin writing novels in the 1980s and scored a massive bestseller with his first: 1987’s The Bonfire of the Vanities, a sharp tale of greed and Wall Street that captured the excesses and attitudes of the day. It was nominated for a National Book Critics Circle Award.

His other bestselling novel A Man in Full earned Wolfe a National Book Award nomination. And Wolfe’s 1980 look at America’s efforts to conquer space, The Right Stuff, won the National Book Award for General Nonfiction.

Among his many published works, Wolfe wrote Hooking Up (2000), I Am Charlotte Simmons (2004), The Painted Word (2008), Back to Blood (2012) and The Kingdom of Speech (2016).

He will be deeply missed.

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