BREAKING NEWS : Coliseum Inn shooting victim identified by Allen County coroner Full Story
SEVERE WX : Heat Advisory View Alerts

Tom Wolfe reflects on his career (1988)

Tom Wolfe looks back on his career during a 1988 interview with Larry King.

Posted: May 16, 2018 6:01 AM
Updated: May 16, 2018 6:04 AM

With Tom Wolfe, the most important thing was what you didn't see. What you saw, of course, was the white suit. Perhaps no American writer in history was more identified with an article of clothing. The outfit -- flashy, unique, an unapologetic plea for attention -- seemed symbolic, too. Wolfe's writing, with its English teacher's nightmare of ALL CAPS and excessive use of exclamation points!!! -- stood out from the crowd as much as he did.

But to focus on the suit, or even the punctuation, was to miss the point of Wolfe's genius. He was, above all, a brilliant reporter -- a meticulous and patient observer of the chaotic world around him. Wolfe, who died Monday at 88, was the rarest bird in American letters, a master of both nonfiction and fiction, an achievement that his distinctive plumage served sometimes to obscure.

Consider, for example, his 1979 masterpiece, "The Right Stuff." The first American astronauts, from the Mercury program, were almost forgotten by the time Wolfe turned his eye to them. But by steeping himself in the material, Wolfe saw that the astronauts were not even the best story about the era. That role, and Wolfe's book, belonged to Chuck Yeager, the slow-talking West Virginian whose feats as a test pilot made the work of the astronauts (who were just "spam in a can") look small.

The phrase -- "the right stuff" -- has become such a cliché that it's easy to forget that Wolfe brought it to us, just a few decades ago.

The setting of "The Bonfire of the Vanities" -- the rarefied precincts of Manhattan's Upper East Side -- could not have differed more from the dusty Air Force bases of "The Right Stuff." But in that novel, published in 1987, Wolfe hilariously and wisely revealed both the upside and the underside of the Reagan years among the rich.

Wolfe didn't have to venture far to research this book, because even though he never lost the soft Virginia accent of his native commonwealth, he spent most of his life in the belly of the cosseted beast.

Two of Wolfe's lesser-known works revealed the range of his sophistication. In "The Painted Word" and "From Bauhaus to Our House," he offered pointed critiques of, respectively, modern painting and modern architecture. In these amusing works -- Wolfe could not not be funny -- he cast his reportorial eye on the contemporary art scene and found a truth that others preferred to avoid: A lot of this stuff was pretty ugly.

Wolfe turned crankier in his later years and works, and his high standards sometimes bled into snobbism. He never had much interest in, or insights about, people who were of different races and backgrounds than his own. But his gifts and great works will endure, for the worlds he revealed and skewered, and for the many joys his inimitable style gave to generations of grateful readers.

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 49063

Reported Deaths: 2732
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Marion11760689
Lake5276246
Elkhart340255
Allen2835133
St. Joseph200169
Cass16429
Hamilton1608101
Hendricks1425100
Johnson1296118
Porter76738
Tippecanoe7359
Clark66844
Madison66764
Bartholomew59145
Vanderburgh5876
LaPorte58326
Howard58058
Kosciusko5624
Marshall5016
Noble48528
LaGrange4779
Jackson4733
Boone45443
Delaware45252
Hancock45236
Shelby43125
Floyd38444
Morgan32731
Monroe30928
Montgomery29720
Grant29626
Clinton2902
Dubois2886
Henry28216
White26610
Decatur25432
Lawrence24825
Dearborn23823
Vigo2388
Warrick22729
Harrison21622
Greene19032
Miami1862
Jennings17712
Putnam1708
DeKalb1634
Scott1628
Daviess14817
Wayne1436
Orange13623
Perry1359
Steuben1302
Franklin1268
Ripley1247
Jasper1232
Wabash1142
Carroll1102
Fayette1037
Newton9910
Gibson982
Whitley975
Starke943
Randolph804
Huntington782
Jefferson762
Wells751
Fulton721
Jay680
Washington671
Pulaski661
Knox640
Clay604
Rush583
Owen501
Adams491
Benton480
Posey450
Sullivan451
Spencer441
Brown421
Blackford392
Crawford320
Fountain322
Tipton311
Switzerland280
Parke240
Martin220
Ohio180
Vermillion140
Warren141
Union130
Pike110
Unassigned0193

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 60181

Reported Deaths: 2991
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Franklin10879439
Cuyahoga8277383
Hamilton6287206
Lucas2836303
Marion273639
Summit2241207
Pickaway220541
Montgomery220131
Mahoning1861239
Butler167447
Columbiana130960
Stark1156113
Lorain106468
Trumbull99774
Warren89525
Clark7809
Delaware61715
Fairfield60517
Tuscarawas58510
Belmont55522
Medina54332
Lake52920
Licking52012
Miami47531
Portage46159
Wood45251
Ashtabula43744
Clermont4317
Geauga41443
Wayne36552
Richland3515
Allen32841
Mercer2909
Greene2879
Darke25326
Erie25022
Holmes2453
Huron2282
Madison2029
Ottawa16024
Washington14020
Sandusky13814
Crawford1365
Putnam13215
Ross1323
Coshocton1302
Hardin12312
Morrow1181
Auglaize1074
Jefferson922
Union921
Monroe8917
Muskingum891
Hancock831
Preble801
Athens791
Hocking798
Guernsey763
Lawrence740
Williams722
Shelby704
Clinton680
Logan651
Fulton630
Ashland621
Carroll603
Wyandot605
Brown591
Scioto540
Defiance533
Knox531
Fayette480
Highland461
Champaign441
Van Wert420
Perry371
Seneca352
Henry320
Jackson260
Paulding260
Adams241
Pike240
Vinton222
Gallia201
Harrison121
Meigs120
Morgan110
Noble110
Unassigned00
Fort Wayne
Scattered Clouds
91° wxIcon
Hi: 92° Lo: 72°
Feels Like: 98°
Angola
Broken Clouds
90° wxIcon
Hi: 90° Lo: 72°
Feels Like: 93°
Huntington
Scattered Clouds
91° wxIcon
Hi: 90° Lo: 71°
Feels Like: 97°
Decatur
Scattered Clouds
88° wxIcon
Hi: 91° Lo: 72°
Feels Like: 93°
Van Wert
Scattered Clouds
88° wxIcon
Hi: 92° Lo: 72°
Feels Like: 93°
AM Storms, Slightly Cooler Friday
WFFT Radar
WFFT Temperatures
WFFT National

Community Events