Sam Gillette
May 15, 2018 12:46 PM

Tom Wolfe, the writer who challenged norms in both journalism and fiction, passed away on Monday at the age of 88.

His agent Lynn Nesbit confirmed Wolfe’s death and explained he’d been hospitalized with an infection, according to the New York Times.

“When Tom Wolfe’s voice broke into the world of non-fiction, it was a time when a lot of writers, and a lot of artists in general, were turning inward,” Lev Grossman, book critic for Time magazine, told NPR. “Wolfe didn’t do that. Wolfe turned outwards. He was a guy who was interested in other people.”

Known for works like The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test and The Right Stuff, Wolfe’s career spanned more than five decades. The Yale graduate worked as a reporter for The Washington Post before joining The New York Herald Tribune in 1962. He went on to employ literary techniques in his non-fiction, which became known as the “New Journalism.”

Tom Wolfe
Ulf Andersen/Getty Images

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“He showed us how to walk into a cocktail party, a NASA training center — how to walk down the street, and see in front of us this incredible drama of amazing richness, and amazing significance,” Grossman continued, according to NPR.

His fiction was just as captivating.

“I do novels a bit backward,” Wolfe once explained. “I look for a situation, a milieu first, and then I wait to see who walks into it.”

Wolfe published multiple works of nonfiction, as well as essays for national magazines. His novels like The Bonfire of the Vanities — a 1987 satirical novel about greed, racism, and class in New York City — also won him acclaim. 

“He is probably the most skillful writer in America,” wrote William F. Buckley Jr. in National Review, according to the Times. “I mean by that he can do more things with words than anyone else.”

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