Bestselling author Tom Wolfe dies in New York

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Bestselling author Tom Wolfe died Monday at a New York hospital at age 88.

Wolfe, a Richmond native, was interviewed by freelance writer Martha Steger in the April issue of Virginia Business.

Wolfe’s books — including “The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test,” “The Right Stuff,” “Bonfire of the Vanities” and “A Man in Full”— helped shape public perception on topics ranging from the 1960s counterculture to the lives of the first U.S. astronauts while adding terms like “radical chic” to the lexicon.

Wolfe, a graduate of St. Christopher’s School in Richmond, earned a bachelor’s degree from Washington and Lee University and a doctorate in American studies at Yale University.
He had lived in New York City since 1962 when he joined the New York Herald Tribune.

Wolfe was known as one of the principal practitioners of New Journalism, which employed novelistic techniques in telling a story.

In the April interview, Wolfe described the technique as “scene-by-scene construction” of a story rather than historical narrative. He told Steger that he wrote his first novel, “Bonfire of the Vanities,” because he was unable to assemble the vast number of the sources he needed to write a multifaceted nonfiction book about New York.

In addition to his distinctive writing style, Wolfe was noted for his attire. In public, he favored three-piece white suits.

Wolfe never converted to writing on a computer. In the Virginia Business interview, he told Steger that he continued to use a typewriter until he was unable to find parts for it on eBay.  After that, he wrote his books by hand.

Steger had interviewed Wolfe twice before. "In the first interview I did with him ... after 'The Right Stuff' was released, he told me how, at an early age  ... he'd come to regard typing on a typewriter and having the work appear in a magazine as nothing short of miraculous," she said.

In the latest interview, Wolfe blamed the internet for shifting the emphasis in writing from style to brevity.  “Because of the glare of the computer screen, it’s unpleasant to be presented with something more than 800 words long,” he told Steger.

At the time of the interview, Wolfe was researching a book on the medical profession. He had not decided if it would be fiction or nonfiction.

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