Tom Wolfe, Groundbreaking Novelist and Nonfiction Pioneer, Gone at 88

Author's works inspired the Hollywood feature films 'The Bonfire of the Vanities' and 'The Right Stuff'

by Kyle Becker | Updated 15 May 2018 at 2:16 PM

Tom Wolfe brought stories to life with groundbreaking novels, including “Bonfire of the Vanities” and “The Right Stuff.”

Now, the end of his own life at a Manhattan hospital at age 87 itself has become the story.

The legendary author, a genius of creative nonfiction storytelling, passed away after he was hospitalized with an infection, as disclosed by his longtime literary agent, Lynn Nesbit.

A pioneer of new journalism, Wolfe wove ornate tapestries through his fervent prosaic style and vivid storytelling techniques.

Although a counterculture evangelist who dabbled in colorful language by trade, his versatility commanded respect across the literary spectrum.

"He is probably the most skillful writer in America — I mean by that he can do more things with words than anyone else," wrote William F. Buckley in the pages of the National Review.

Wolfe was the author of nine nonfiction works from 1965 to 1981. In addition to the aforementioned "Bonfire of the Vanities" and "The Right Stuff" — novels that were later recaptured as Hollywood feature films — he wrote theatrical and entertaining stories for magazines such as Esquire, Harper's, and New York magazine.

Wolfe didn't begin his novels with a character and a plot so much as an idea, Tom Vitale of NPR explained.

"I've always contended on a theoretical level that the techniques ... for fiction and nonfiction are interchangeable," Wolfe said. "The things that work in nonfiction would work in fiction, and vice versa."

In this way, Wolfe was a pioneer of storytelling and creative nonfiction whose influence is still felt today.

"Everything that bloggers have done for journalism — and I personally think they've done a lot — Wolfe did it first, he did it 30 years earlier, and he did it better," novelist Rex Grossman told NPR. "And I think we're still catching up to him."

Kyle Becker is a content writer and producer with LifeZette. Follow him on Twitter

(photo credit, article image: Tom Wolfe, CC BY-SA 3.0, by MoSchle)

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