Bonfire author Tom Wolfe dies at 88

Posted: May 16, 2018 at 3:04 a.m.
Updated: May 16, 2018 at 3:04 a.m.

In this April 22, 2002 file photo, President Bush, left, poses with author Tom Wolfe, center, and first lady Laura Bush during the National Endowment for the Arts National Medal Awards ceremony at Constitution Hall in Washington . Wolfe was a recipient of the National Humanities Medal. Wolfe died at a New York City hospital. He was 88. Additional details were not immediately available. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, File)

NEW YORK -- Tom Wolfe, the white-suited wizard of "New Journalism" who exuberantly chronicled American culture from the Merry Pranksters through the space race before turning his satiric wit to such novels as The Bonfire of the Vanities and A Man in Full, has died. He was 88.

Wolfe's literary agent, Lynn Nesbit, said that he died of an infection Monday in a New York hospital. Further details were not immediately available.

An acolyte of French novelist Emile Zola and other authors of "realistic" fiction, the stylishly attired Wolfe was an American maverick who insisted that the only way to tell a great story was to go out and report it. Along with Gay Talese, Truman Capote and Nora Ephron, he helped demonstrate that journalism could offer the kinds of literary pleasure found in books.

His hyperbolic, stylized writing work was a fusillade of exclamation points, italics and improbable words. An ingenious phrase maker, he helped brand such expressions as "radical chic" for rich liberals' fascination with revolutionaries and the "Me" generation, defining the self-absorbed baby boomers of the 1970s.

"He was an incredible writer," Talese said. "And you couldn't imitate him. When people tried it was a disaster. They should have gotten a job at a butcher's shop."

His literary honors included the American Book Award (now called the National Book Award) for The Right Stuff and a nomination for the National Book Critics Circle prize for The Bonfire of the Vanities, one of the top 10 selling books of the 1980s.

Metro on 05/16/2018