Literary Classics  

Thomas Wolfe Centennial
by Joyce Dixon


Southern literary groups are remembering the works of Thomas Wolfe as the centennial of his birth is celebrated.  Born October 3, 1900 in Asheville, NC, where his father was a stonecutter and his mother ran a boarding house.  The tales from the boarding house inspired him and his father’s blend of Shakespeare and booze took another part of his soul. 

The youngest of eight children, Wolfe attended a private school in Asheville, where his creativity was encouraged.  By the age of sixteen, Wolfe was attending the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.  At UNC-Chapel Hill, he wrote for school magazines and newspapers, and became the editor of the Tar Heel, the college newspaper.  His interest in playwrighting was nurtured by his work with the Carolina Playmakers. 

At age twenty, Wolfe went to Harvard to study playwrighting in the 47 Workshop.  He completed his Master of Arts Degree in Literature in two years.  Unable to get his plays produced, Wolfe became an English instructor at New York University.  During this time, Thomas Wolfe started writing his autobiographical novels.  Editor Maxwell Perkins aided Wolfe in transforming his long and chaotic manuscripts into episodic short stories.  The resulting novel, Look Homeward, Angel, was met with great success. 

Wolfe travel Europe on a Guggenheim fellowship and continued writing.  In September of 1938, Wolfe was admitted to John Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore for surgery on what was believed to be tuberculosis of the brain.  The entire right side of Wolfe’s brain was covered with tubercles.  Thomas Wolfe never regained consciousness before his death on September 15, 1938.  He was buried in Riverside Cemetery in Asheville, North Carolina. 

Thomas Wolfe’s gift to Southern Literature is his mastery over the use of the language through robust rhetoric and eloquence of phrasing.  His passion for life comes across the pages in his use of the senses.  His boarding house stories record the relationships between social classes and extended families.  Thomas Wolfe explored the provincial life and broke free.   

Centennial Events

Oct. 2 - Feb 14, 2001.  "A Kind of Magic Door: Thomas Wolfe at the University of North Carolina, 1916-1920."  The exhibit is at the Wilson Library at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Oct. 2-3. A Thomas Wolfe Birthday Party, with cake special exhibits and a marathon reading of Look Homeward, Angel begins Oct. 2 at 8 pm and ends Oct. 3 at noon.  The event is in the Pit at UNC-Chapel Hill.

Oct. 3. The Thomas Wolfe Memorial Visitors Center in Asheville celebrates Wolfe's birthday with the unveiling of the Thomas Wolfe commemorative stamp; musical selections from the production of "Look Homeward, Angel"; and a booksigning of O Lost with authors Arlyn and Matthew J. Bruccoli.  FMI, call: (828) 253-8304.

Oct. 3. Fred Chappell will read his commemorative poem, "Author and Other: The Final Days," before a Gala Performance of Ketti Frings' dramatization of "Look Homeward, Angel," at the Asheville Community Theater. The event is hosted by Fred Chappell and Wilma Dykeman. FMI, call: (828) 253-4931.

Oct. 17. Lecture: Tom Wolfe on Thomas Wolfe, Memorial Hall, UNC-Chapel Hill, 7:30 pm.

Oct. 18 - Nov. 12. Ketti Frings' play, "Look Homeward, Angel," performed by the Playmakers Repertory Company, directed by Kent Paul.  Paul Green Theater in Chapel Hill. FMI, call: (919) 962-7529.

Oct. 20-21. Streetsigns Center for Literature and Performance and Wordshed Productions present "The Lost Boy," a play adapted from the Thomas Wolfe novella, in Swain Hall at UNC-Chapel Hill.  FMI, call: (919) 962-4299.

Sites of Interest

 The Thomas Wolfe Collection (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill)

 The Thomas Wolfe Web Site

 The Thomas Wolfe Memorial

 The 2001 Thomas Wolfe Student Essay Contest

Thomas Wolfe Comemoriative Stamp



Selected Books 

Look Homeward, Angel: A Story of the Buried Life (Scribner Classics), by Thomas Wolfe. Scribner Reprint Edition, 1997.

You Can't Go Home Again (Perennial Classics), by Thomas Wolfe. Harperperennial Reprint Edition, 1998.

The Hills Beyond (Voices of the South), by Thomas Wolfe. Louisiana State Univ. Press Reprint Edition, 2000.

Of Time and the River: A Legend of Man's Hunger in His Youth (Scribner Classics), by Thomas Wolfe. Scribner Reprint Edition, 1999.

O Lost: A Story of the Buried Life, by Thomas Wolfe, edited by Arlyn Bruccoli and Matthew J. Bruccoli.  Univ. of South Carolina Press Centenary Edition, 2000.

To Loot My Life Clean: The Thomas Wolfe-Maxwell Perkins Correspondence, by Thomas Wolfe, Maxwell E. Perkins, edited by Matthew J. Bruccoli and Park Bucker. Univ. of South Carolina Press, 2000.

Memories of Thomas Wolfe: A Pictorial Companion to Look Homeward Angel, by John C. Griffin. Unknown, 1996.

Thomas Wolfe (Modern Critical Views), edited by Harold Bloom, Thomas Bloom, William Golding. Chelsea House Pub., 2000.

© 2000 Joyce Dixon, All Rights Reserved