Common Questions

Feel free to share your question with us at deb.borland@thomaswolfe.org. One question per day. The provided question will either be responded to directly through the individual’s return email address OR may also be listed in this website’s Q&A format depending on the number of inquiries.

Q: Who was Thomas Wolfe?

A: Thomas Wolfe was an American novelist who lived from 1900-1938 (for more detailed biographical info, check out the “Thomas Wolfe Biography” section of this website), contemporary of F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway. He wrote about his boyhood experiences growing up in a small mountain community, his travels, life in New York City and the glory of America.

He was only 37 years old when he died, yet he provided a great body of work during his lifetime. He was born in Asheville, NC on October 3, 1900 to Julia Westall Wolfe and William Oliver Wolfe. He is known for his sweeping prose style and descriptive abilities.

He is in no way affiliated or connected to today’s modern writer Tom Wolfe.

He was highly educated–first in private school in Asheville, NC, then graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and graduated from Harvard.

He taught English at NYU for a short time. His first novel, Look Homeward, Angel received great acclaim. This novel and his second novel, Of Time and the River, along with his collection of short stories, From Death to Morning and The Story of a Novel were published during his lifetime.

Q: What did Thomas Wolfe write?

A: Thomas Wolfe is most known for the top four novels listed below. He also wrote plays before becoming a novelist. His main body of work includes:

Look Homeward, Angel: A Story of the Buried Life (New York, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1929)
Of Time and the River: A Legend of Man’s Hunger in His Youth (New York, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1935)
The Web and the Rock (New York, Harper & Brothers, 1939)
You Can’t Go Home Again (New York, Harper & Brothers, 1940)
From Death to Morning [A collection of short stories] (New York, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1935)
The Story of a Novel (New York, Scribner’s Sons, 1936)
The Hills Beyond [A collection of short stories] (New York, Harper & Brothers, 1941)
A Western Journal: A Daily Log of the Great Parks Trip, June 20-July 2, 1938 (Pittsburgh, University of Pittsburgh Press, 1951)
Thomas Wolfe’s Purdue Speech: Writing and Living (Edited from the dictated and revised typescript, West Lafayette, IN, Purdue University, 1964)
The Return of Buck Gavin: The Tragedy of a Mountain Outlaw (Contained in Carolina Folk-Plays, First, Second, and Third Series, Edited and with an introduction by Frederick H. Koch; Foreword by Paul Green, New York, H. Holt and Company, 1941)
The Third Night (Contained in Carolina Folk-Plays, First, Second, and Third Series, Edited and with an introduction by Frederick H. Koch; Foreword by Paul Green, New York, H. Holt and Company, 1941)
Mannerhouse: A Play in a Prologue and Four Acts (Edited by Louis D. Rubin, Jr., and John L. Idol, Jr., Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1985)
Welcome to Our City: A Play in Ten Scenes (Edited with an introduction by Richard S. Kennedy, Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1983)
The Mountains: A Play in One Act (The Mountains: A Drama in Three Acts and a Prologue, Edited and with an introduction by Pat M. Ryan Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1970)

Q: Did Thomas Wolfe ever get married?

A: No. He never got married. He talked about it at times, but it didn’t happen.

Q: What did Wolfe look like?

A: Thomas Wolfe was over 6 foot 6 inches tall. He had brown hair and eyes. His hands were large, and he had a callus worn on one of his fingers from clutching his pencil to handwrite his manuscripts.

Q: What was his work style for writing all those books?

A: Wolfe did not use a typewriter. Every word he wrote was written in longhand. He owned a typewriter but did not use it. He favored pencils over pens. He used ledger books to write in while working on his first novel. There are several legends about Wolfe. One of those is that he wrote standing up beside a refrigerator, using the top of the refrigerator as a desk.

Q: How long has The Thomas Wolfe Society been in existence?

A: Since October 1979

Q: Wolfe traveled a lot. What ships did he travel on and when? (He also traveled by airplane at least once. This trip was from Switzerland to France.)

A: For a complete list of his ship travels, click here.

Q: Can you provide some quotes from Wolfe’s works that describe his feelings and show his descriptive powers about traveling by ship?

A: Yes! Click here for a selection of quotes.

Q: Was Wolfe ever filmed or recorded?

A: Not to anyone’s knowledge. If you were to find filmed footage or audio of him, please let us know immediately!

Hooked on Wolfe?

Q: What type of people get hooked on Wolfe, and how did YOU get hooked on Wolfe?

A: This is a common question that always gets asked when Wolfeans get together (“So, how’d you get hooked on Wolfe?”). Wolfeans, feel free to respond to this question at deb.borland@thomaswolfe.org and watch the list grow! Please limit your response to 50 words. Your initials will be posted as an identifier.

Include only information as to 1) your occupation, 2) the year you got hooked on Wolfe, 3) what hooked you about Wolfe’s work.

SR–Insurance Examiner. Wolfe’s prose, in many places, approaches that of poetry. A selection of these instances, in poetic format, would be an insightful and artistic rendering of his verse. “Remembering speechlessly we seek the great forgotten language, the lost lane-end into heaven, a stone, a leaf, an unfound door. Where? When?” — Thomas Wolfe

DB–Writer/Communications Specialist–1986–the beauty of his descriptive and evocative power, his ability to make me feel what he describes, his myth-making abilities, his humor, his appreciation of the natural world and its peoples.

RG–Library Administrator–I first discovered Thomas Wolfe as a teenager more than fifty years ago.–What attracted me then, and what to this day, I believe, sets him apart from and above all other American novelists is the intensely emotional and hauntingly lyrical quality of his writing.

RS–Ordained Clergyperson–1996–I became hooked on Wolfe because I worked at a hospital as a Chaplain where Dietz Wolfe, nephew of Thomas, was working. I loved to hear his stories of the Wolfe family and went to a festival and began to read his works.

ETE–Retired Layout Artist–1962–As a junior in high school, I had to read an American novelist. The title Look Homeward, Angel intrigued me. While reading it, I felt that I must have known Wolfe in a past life, and we had been friends.

SR–Historian–1987–I lived in Asheville as a child and used to sit on the front porch of the Old Kentucky Home and eat ice cream on my way home from school–even before I really knew who Thomas Wolfe was. Years later, I toured the house for the first time and discovered Wolfe’s interest in Germany, and, in turn, I became interested in Wolfe. I read LHA and explored the German connection and was hooked.

SRM–University Community Engagement work–1977–Wolfe’s descriptive powers, his lyrical, poetic prose, and his insight into human nature.

JJ–Attorney–People who are literary and care about the past. They are intelligent, nostalgic and sentimental people. Their backgrounds tend to be middle-class and educated.

DH–English teacher, sixty-four years old, and editor of a journal devoted to science fiction (Extrapolation)–I read all of Wolfe available to me when I was a junior and senior in high school (1953-54).–He spoke to who I was then and was a great influence in molding everything I have done since–study of the Romantics, Science Fiction, some writing.

JSC–I don’t remember the exact day I first read something written by Wolfe, but I do know it was his first novel, Look Homeward, Angel. I remember how his words made me feel as if I were right there in the book! Needless to say I have every book he wrote and many of his other writings. I only wish he had lived longer.

WK–library aide and former English teacher–hooked on Wolfe in 1961 when I read The Web and the Rock in a college literature course. Wolfe’s appeal for me lies in his soaring lyricism, his gusto for life and the sheer magnitude and scope of his work. Wolfe swung for the fences every time he stepped up to the plate. Most of his contemporaries merely bunted.

CIT–prof. social worker–1950 at age 18–situations and characters parallel with my own life, e.g., Eliza, boarding home, Helen (my older sister). I devoured and redevoured four to five times all of Wolfe’s published works.

JI–writer–1949–His lyrical evocation of mountain life coupled with his satiric treatment of small town and college life in Look Homeward, Angel.

FMW–Emeritus Professor of Political Science–1943–In 1943 my Army Air Corps Captain gave me Look Homeward, Angel to read, and I was hooked. That epiphanic experience moved me because of the beauty of the language, the magnificent poetry, and the cadenced lyrical style. Also, as a questing Tar Heel, I saw Wolfe as a kindred spirit.

CPS–writer–1950–The beauty of his language; the FIRE in his best passages and his wonderful portrait of America. Later, I also learned to love the HUMOR and to be fascinated by the entire family.

JW–Physician (retired)–1943–Wolfe’s powerful, dramatic, poetic prose assailed my sensorium from the first page of LHA onward. And I could almost say I had read it twice by the time I finished it once! He revealed to me many of my own emotions and experiences in growing up in the south.

RH–Professor of English–1959–Working at Chautaugua, NY, I pulled off the bookstore top shelf a copy of You Can’t Go Home Again which spoke to my North Carolina soul. Entralled by his high rhetorical but comprehensible style and his themes of time, loneliness, death, America, and family relations, I spent all my NY spare time that summer on Look Homeward, Angel, Of Time and the River, The Web and the Rock, From Death to Morning, plus Nowell’s and Kennedy’s biographies.

WBH–Professor of Religion–1956–I read Look Homeward, Angel and loved his very different North Carolina childhood, and wanted to experience life with the same penchant for joy and excitement.

CS–Graduate Student–1998–I worked in a library and one day found a short biography of Thomas Clayton Wolfe. I was immediately interested and began reading his works. He has profoundly changed my life. I feel that he is one of a very few number of authors who was truly HONEST about his life and feelings. I feel connected to him.

EE–A high school teacher suggested I read Wolfe. My mother and father manned the night library and bookmobile in rural Kentucky, so I had the opportunity to read his books. They lead me to go to New York City, where I’ve worked for the past ten years.