Tom Wolfe Captured American Life from the Center of the Carnival and We’re All Better Because of It

The USA lost an icon today. Tom Wolfe wrote the pants off of every subject he touched, and he will be missed. But that’s what writing is for, right? He is gone, but his work remains. I devoured as much of his writing as I could when I was studying for my B.A. degree. What I got in return wasn’t just a lesson in style or syntax, but a portrait of American history that I wouldn’t have found anywhere else. From NASA to Nascar, Ken Kesey’s quest for the far-out and Charlotte Simmons’ prelude to #MeToo, Wolfe seemed to have a line on everything that happened in the half-century he spent writing. I hope that my generation can come up with a Wolfe of its own – someone who will thread the needle between all the cultural movements happening right now, and instead of illustrating only the divisions, find something …

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Tom Wolfe – “The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby”

In Wolfe’s style of writing, the ‘New Journalism’, he places himself dead center in the middle of whatever story is going on, and writes himself as the protagonist, affected by the American carnival swirling around him. He writes what he hears with little filtration, turning dialogue into a context from which to evaluate the whole situation. I think what New Journalism intended to do was disrupt the style of convention, assume a highly intelligent person was the audience, and also find evidence of a new culture growing in the US. The New Journalism was also an attempt to fuse imaginative storytelling with factual reporting. Wolfe’s style wanders through made-up phrases – “Hemingway or a lot of other goddamn-and-hungry-breast writers,” “the Barbasol Sound,” and “Williams College boys,” obscure references – “Brancusi,” and “Dionysian,” and pop-culture name dropping – Cassius Clay, Cary Grant, the Avanti Studebaker; devices often left out of fiction. …

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