Though neither a Tar Heel born nor a Tar Heel bred, Tom Wolfe managed quite a number of Miscellany appearances — often juxtaposed with native sons Thomas Wolfe (here, here and here) and Junior Johnson (here and here).
In 2000 Wolfe became the first recipient of the Thomas Wolfe Prize.
From his acceptance note, handwritten atop the letter from professor William L. Andrews:
“I’m one of my namesake’s greatest fans. When I was just old enough to read, I noticed that there were two books on the shelves at home with my name on them, Look Homeward, Angel and Of Time and the River. My parents had a hard time convincing me that the author was no kin to me. He had to be. And sure enough, I’m ‘a putter-inner’ too….”
The “putter-inner” reference is from Thomas Wolfe’s response to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s criticism of his “unselective” approach to writing: “You say that the great writer like Flaubert has consciously left out the stuff that Bill or Joe will come along presently and put in. Well, don’t forget, Scott, that a great writer is not only a leaver-outer but also a putter-inner, and that Shakespeare and Cervantes and Dostoevsky were great putter-inners—greater putter-inners, in fact, than taker-outers and will be remembered for what they put in….”
“We have had a few folks get to the end of our 50-minute tour of the old boardinghouse before they realize we are not talking about the guy in the white suit…. As a tour guide it is rewarding for us anytime we see the light bulb going on and someone finally making connections… but you do have to wonder where they were over the last 45 minutes.”
— Tom Muir, historic site manager at the Thomas Wolfe Memorial in Asheville, quoted by Tyler Malone at Full Stop (April 14, 2015)
“The guy in the white suit” tells George Plimpton his thoughts about the first Tom Wolfe.
“And it’s not just attention seekers, like [Ken] Kesey, who throw open the doors to the man in the white suit. [In 1965 Tom] Wolfe writes a piece on the origins of this new sport called stock-car racing and its greatest legend, Junior Johnson. Junior Johnson doesn’t talk to reporters. He’s famously reticent: no one outside his close circle of family and friends has any idea who he really is. Without a word of explanation, Tom Wolfe is suddenly describing what it’s like to be in Junior’s backyard, pulling weeds with his two sisters and watching a red rooster cross the lawn, while Junior tells him everything … and the reader learns, from Junior himself, that NASCAR racing basically evolved out of the fine art, mastered by Junior, of outrunning the North Carolina federal agents with a car full of bootleg whiskey.
“Wolfe’s Esquire piece about Junior Johnson, ‘The Last American Hero Is Junior Johnson. Yes!’ is another sensation — and still no one writes to ask him: How did you do that? How did you get yourself invited into the home of a man who would sooner shoot a journalist than talk to him? (This fall, 50 years after Wolfe introduced the world to Junior Johnson, NASCAR Productions and Fox Sports released a documentary about the piece. That’s the effect Wolfe routinely has had: to fix people and events in readers’ minds forever)….”
— From “How Tom Wolfe Became … Tom Wolfe” by Michael Lewis in Vanity Fair (November 2015)
Lewis turns up numerous eye-popping nuggets in his mining of Wolfe’s papers, which became available earlier this year at the New York Public Library.
“I am old enough to remember when Thomas Wolfe seemed secure in the pantheon of 20th-century American writers, the equal, nearly, of Faulkner and Fitzgerald and Hemingway. He is gone from the pantheon today, and I doubt that Tom Wolfe gets asked about his kinship to Thomas Wolfe anymore.
“The obscurity of Thomas is an odd but impressive testament to the magnitude of Tom’s fame and, more important, the vastness of his literary achievement over a career spanning a half-century.”
— From “The Right Wolfe” by Andrew Ferguson in Commentary (November 2012)
Tom told George Plimpton he ignores Thomas’s “fluctuations on the literary stock market.”
“I thought I’d better try to fit in, so I very carefully picked out the clothes I’d wear. I had a knit tie, some brown suede shoes and a brown Borsalino hat with a half-inch of beaver fur on it. Somehow I thought this was very casual and suitable for the races. I guess I’d been reading too many P. G. Wodehouse novels.”
— Tom Wolfe, recalling (for interviewer Chet Flippo) his sartorial naivete when undertaking “The Last American Hero is Junior Johnson. Yes!” for Esquire magazine (1965)
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.