Tom Wolfe, the innovative writer who chronicled the early days of the U.S. space program, American surf culture and the rise of 1960s counterculture before becoming a novelist with his classic Bonfire of the Vanities, died Monday night.
He was 88.
Lynn Nesbit, Wolfe’s longtime agent, confirmed the death to the New York Times and said Wolfe had been hospitalized with an infection.
Born in Virginia in 1930, Wolfe first rose to fame after he moved to New York in 1962 to work for The New York Herald Tribune, according to the Guardian.
A pioneer of what came to be called “New Journalism,” Wolfe practiced saturation reporting and would shadow his subjects for long periods.
In his 1970 book The New Journalism, he wrote:
“To pull it off, you casually have to stay with the people you are writing about for long stretches ... long enough so that you are actually there when revealing scenes take place in their lives.”
Wolfe applied this approach in classic works like The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test where he observed Ken Kesey and his LSD-imbibing Merry Pranksters in the early days of the psychedelic era, and The Right Stuff, an account of the early days of the U.S. space program.
In the process, he coined terms that became a part of general U.S. culture, such as “the Me Decade,” a term Wolfe used to refer to the 1970s.
After the 1979 publication of The Right Stuff, Wolfe set his sights on writing novels. His first work, Bonfire of the Vanities, was first serialized in Rolling Stone. It then was released after many revisions to much acclaim, according to the Washington Post.
In some circles, Wolfe was known as much for his stylish all-white or pastel suits as he was for his writing.
“I just want to make sure that when I walk into a room, everybody there turns around and says, ‘Who in the name of God is that?’” he once said, according to the Post.
Wolfe is survived by Sheila, his wife of nearly 40 years and two children.
The news of Wolfe’s death inspired many Twitter tributes:
CORRECTION: A previous version of this story said Wolfe was 87 when he died. He was 88.