'Radical chic' author Tom Wolfe dies at 88

(David Corio/Redferns/Getty)

(David Corio/Redferns/Getty)

American writer Tom Wolfe ― known for his novels The Right Stuff and The Bonfire of Vanities ― died on Monday at the age of 88.

The author’s agent, Lynn Nesbit, confirmed to the Associated Press that Wolfe died in hospital from an infection.

Wolfe was famous for “novelising” his nonfiction books and immersing his readers into the details of distinct American subcultures. His writings created a revolutionary type of journalism known as “New Journalism”.
From 1965 until 1981, Wolfe published nine nonfiction books, according to the New York Times. Known for being stylish and au courant, Wolfe was known for travelling around North America to report on pop culture subjects including LSD, hippies, astronauts, race relations and early yuppie culture.

Born in March of 1931, Wolfe began his career as a reporter in 1962 at The New York Herald Tribune newspaper. The New York Times describes his talent as being evident through “verbal pyrotechnics and perfect mimicry of speech patterns, his meticulous reporting, and his creative use of pop language and explosive punctuation.”

The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) described the writer as flamboyantly dressed, witty, hard-working and curious. In 1965, Wolfe published his first collection of essays in a nonfiction book called the The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby, which focused on custom cars. The writer gained attention after publishing The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, in which he followed a California band as they journeyed across the United States while under the influence of psychedelic drugs.

Wolfe, who was known for wearing distinct all-white ensembles, published his first fiction novel The Bonfire of the Vanities in 1987.The book, which focused on the power, corruption and influence of New York City’s high society dwellers, was met with critical acclaim and also became a commercial success. It was later adapted as a film of the same name directed by Brian De Palma. The WSJ reports that the novel revealed “the city’s racial divide, the seamy world of tabloid scandals and the abuses of the criminal-justice system.”

In an interview with WSJ, American non-fiction author Michael Lewis said that Wolfe “proved the point that it’s not a virtue to ignore the world around you as you’re writing fiction.”

Besides his revolutionary relationship with New Journalism, Wolfe was famous for naming different trends, according to The Times. To many writers, Wolfe was seen as one of the States’ most talented writers. Acclaimed writer Kurt Vonnegut described Wolfe as a “genius”. According to the New York Times, Wolfe’s editor at Esquire Byron Dobell explained: “He has this unique gift of language that sets him apart… It is full of hyperbole; it is brilliant; it is funny, and he has a wonderful ear for how people look and feel… He has a gift of fluency that pours out of him the way Balzac had it.”

Wolfe is survived by his wife Sheila and two children.

Arielle Schwartz

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