‘Another channel of American writing was opened’

On this day in 1929: Maxwell Perkins finishes editing Thomas Wolfe’s “Look Homeward, Angel.” Number of words trimmed: 90,000.

From John Walsh in the Independent of London: “When a novel by the hopeless title ‘O Lost’ was discovered on the Scribner’s unsolicited manuscripts pile, Perkins was told to make something publishable out of it. He made thousands of notes, analysed every scene, suggested cuts and changes but delighted the author by insisting he retain the coarse, vulgar and obscene bits. ‘Look Homeward, Angel’ [as renamed by Perkins] was published and another channel of American writing was opened….”


Thomas Wolfe, ‘the most surprised person in the world’

“Mr. Stikeleather, may I give you one little illustration of what I think may have happened between myself and the people in Asheville? Have you ever tried to pass a man in the street and the moment you stepped to the right to go around him he would also step that way, when you step to the left, he would follow you, and so the thing would continue until it became funny and you both stood still and looked at each other and yet all the time all you were trying to do was to be friendly to each other and to give the other fellow a free passage?
“Or, better still, have you ever met some one that you knew you liked and you were pretty sure he felt the way about you and yet, figuratively speaking, you ‘got off on the the wrong foot’ with each other? Now I think that something of this sort may have happened between Asheville and myself.
“When I wrote ‘Look Homeward, Angel’ several years ago, I can honestly assure you I had no notion that the book would arouse the kind of comment and response and cause the kind of misunderstanding in my home town that it did do. I should like you to believe that I, myself, was just about the most surprised person in the world when I finally understood the kind of effect my book was having in Asheville….”

— From Thomas Wolfe’s letter responding to Asheville businessman J.G. Stikeleather (July 8, 1935)
[Paragraphing added.]


“Look Homeward Lassie”: Thomas Wolfe Titles in Pop Culture

“I have to see a thing a thousand times before I see it once.”

– From Look Homeward, Angel by Thomas Wolfe

Since being published in the first half of the twentieth century, the titles of Thomas Wolfe’s novels Look Homeward, Angel and You Can’t Go Home Again have appeared thousands of times in all things Wolfe-related. The two iconic phrases, however, appear a surprising number of times in ways having nothing to do with Thomas Wolfe or his writings. They are found in cartoons, newspaper headlines, advertisements, magazine covers, children’s toys, etc. Below are a few examples from the Aldo P. Magi Collection on Thomas Wolfe of how Wolfe’s words have been used over the past 100 years. And while you’re browsing, consider joining lovers of all things Wolfe when they gather for the 36th annual meeting of the Thomas Wolfe Society in Chapel Hill on Friday.

Look Homeward Lassie

“Look Homeward, Lassie,” View-Master reels, 1965

"You Can't Blow Home Again"

You Can’t Blow Home Again by Herb Payson, New York: Hearst Books/William Morrow and Company, 1984

Look Homeward Angels

“Look Homeward Angels,” Charlie’s Angels 10th Anniversary, People, 20 October 1986

Look homeward, Angelenos

“Look homeward, Angelenos,” The Herald Sun, 30 January 1994


“Sometimes, you can go home again.” Providence, aired on NBC, 1999-2002

The history of Coca-Cola, according to Thomas Wolfe

“Coca-Cola was the subject of increasing gossip in those years. Growing up in Asheville, North Carolina, Thomas Wolfe heard most of the rumors, but they only increased his taste for Coca-Cola. He immortalized the Great American Drink in this passage from the Great American Novel, ‘Look Homeward, Angel’:

” ‘Drink Coca Cola. They say [Asa Candler] stole the formula from an old mountain woman. $50,000,000 now. Rats in the vats. Dope at Wood’s [Drug Store] better. Too weak here [in New York City]. [Eugene Gant] had recently acquired a taste for the beverage and drank four or five glasses a day.’ ”

— From “For God, Country and Coca-Cola: The Definitive History of the Great American Soft Drink and the Company that Makes it” by Mark Pendergrast (1993)


When Tom Wolfe found Thomas (no kin) Wolfe

George Plimpton: What about Thomas Wolfe? Did he float into your consciousness at all?

Tom Wolfe: Yes, he did. I can remember that on the shelves at home there were…  Look Homeward Angel and Of Time and the River. Of Time and the River had just come out [in 1935] when I [at age 4] was aware of his name. My parents had a hard time convincing me that he was no kin whatsoever. My attitude was, Well, what’s he doing on the shelf then? But as soon as I was old enough I became a tremendous fan of Thomas Wolfe and remain so to this day. I ignore his fluctuations on the literary stock market.

— From The Paris Review (The Art of Fiction No. 123)

This new Google tool tracks the literary stocks of Thomas and Tom.

In sync with the ‘inner rhythm’ of Thomas Wolfe

“The little town of Monroe [Georgia], where I spent my 14th summer, seemed miles from everywhere….It was there one morning that my older cousin gave me ‘Look Homeward, Angel’ by Thomas Wolfe and insisted that I begin reading immediately.

“Four hours later, at the height of the afternoon heat, I let go the book, hands trembling, face flushed. I had finished only some 50 pages and my life had been changed. I was shaken, not so much by the specific content of the writing as by the  quality — the rhythm if you will — of the experience….

“Years later, on a trip to Asheville, North Carolina, I visited Wolfe’s home and grave. I met people who had known him intimately and had lunch and dinner with his sister.  But his personal presence was not so well rounded and clearly defined on that trip as it had been on those long, hot days and magical nights when I first read ‘Look Homeward, Angel.’ ”

— From “The Silent Pulse: A search for the Inner Rhythm that Exists in Each of Us” (2006) by George B. Leonard (UNC Chapel Hill ’48).

Leonard, an accomplished journalist but better known as a founder and popularizer of the human potential movement, died Jan. 6 in Mill Valley, Calif. He was 86.