The chronicles of America by electric Wolfe

New York Public Library has acquired entire archive of ‘New Journalist’ and New York society scourge Tom Wolfe.

Written by New York Times | Published: November 24, 2013 1:27:29 am

Tom Wolfe has long been a gleeful scourge of New York’s cultural institutions and the people who make them hum,from novelty-seeking museum curators and the mandarins of The New Yorker to the Wall Street buckaroos and “social X-ray” wives who swan around at all those galas.

But now Wolfe is about to be enshrined in one of the city’s most august institutions,thanks to the sale of his archives to the New York Public Library.

The $2.15 million acquisition,largely paid for with a private donation,will add significantly to the library’s holdings not just in American literature but in the history of New York City as well,said Anthony W Marx,the library’s president and chief executive.

“Tom Wolfe has been a citizen and analyst and critic of New York society in the midst of some of its greatest controversies,” Dr Marx said,calling the archive — with a hint of Wolfe-like exclamation points — “amazing”.

Wolfe,83,is known for his gargantuan novels,and his archive also puts up some impressive numbers. It includes roughly 190 boxes of material — or about 100 linear feet,in archivist-speak — including drafts,outlines and research materials for his four novels and 12 other books as well as his uncollected journalism.

It also contains more than 10,000 letters to Wolfe dating from 1955 to the present from friends like Hunter S Thompson,William F Buckley and Gay Talese,as well as from people he had written about,not all of whom were happy.

There are letters from Wolfe’s tailor,complete with fabric swatches. But no,he did not throw in one of his signature white suits. “I didn’t think of it,and they didn’t either,” he said in an interview. “Those are the things I really can’t part with.”

Wolfe said the library was his first choice as a home for his papers. The institution has never made an appearance in any of his books,he said,though it did play a role in the creation of some of his work,starting in 1962,when he moved to New York to work at The New York Herald Tribune,now defunct,whose offices were nearby.

“I would do a lot of fact checking and even some kind of long-distance reporting at the library,” he said. “I wrote entire articles there,because the phone never rang.”

Wolfe is credited with inventing the New Journalism in the 1960s,when,hard against a deadline for an article about California’s custom-car scene for Esquire,he sent his unvarnished notes to his editor at the magazine,which printed them pretty much as they were in 1964,under the title “There Goes (Varoom! Varoom!) That Kandy-Kolored (Thphhhhhh!) Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby (Rahghhh!) Around the Bend (Brummmmmmmmmmmmmmm)…”

The library’s acquisition includes material for that article and just about every other significant work of journalism by Wolfe,including Radical Chic,the 1970 New York magazine piece that mocked the cultural elite’s embrace of the Black Panthers,and Stalking the Billion-Footed Beast,the much-debated 1989 Harper’s article that accused American novelists of abandoning social realism,which Wolfe said he sought to revive with The Bonfire of the Vanities (1987),his best-selling novel about class,greed,race and politics in 1980s New York.

“The collection has a double richness,” said William Stingone,the library’s assistant director for archives and manuscripts. “It will allow research into Wolfe as an innovator in style and methodology,and into the things he researched. He had access people will never have again.” The archive also contains something future writers will be producing less of — book drafts composed on a typewriter or by hand.

Currently in storage in Wolfe’s apartment building on the Upper East Side of Manhattan,the collection will be opened to researchers after processing,probably by next summer.

“I feel like I’m not parting with it,” Wolfe said. “After all,it will be just down the street.”

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