Scope and arrangement
The Tom Wolfe papers, dated 1930 to 2013, comprehensively document Wolfe's career as a journalist and author, from his earliest news stories published in the Springfield Union through his 2012 novel Back to Blood. The collection shows the development of Wolfe's distinctive style and the evolution of his works from first draft to newspaper, magazine, and book publication. The papers provide insight into his writing process; his professional relationships with editors, writers, and cultural critics; his social life in New York City; and readers' responses to his published work throughout his career.
The majority of the collection consists of correspondence, draft manuscripts, and research files. The collection documents all of Wolfe's books, most of his magazine features, and some early newspaper work, with the bulk of the papers dating from 1960 to 1988.
The correspondence in the collection documents Wolfe's social and professional relationships, and discusses his writings; the work of fellow journalists and authors; and his subject interests in youth and popular culture, art, sociology, and literature. The collection has few outgoing letters by Wolfe. Correspondence contains letters from editors and publishers Pat Strachan, Roger Straus, Gordon Lish, Jann Wenner, William F. Buckley, Jr., and Emmett Tyrrell; agents Lynn Nesbit and Pat Kavanagh; fellow journalists Hunter S. Thompson and Gay Talese; and sources for his work such as activist Kailey Wong and writers Larry Dietz and Bill van Petten. The collection also contains many letters from readers of Wolfe's work.
Wolfe's writings from throughout his career are represented by draft manuscripts, outlines, and synopses of feature articles, essays, short stories, and books. The collection contains multiple versions of draft and revised manuscripts, which show the evolution of works throughout the writing process. Manuscript files also contain drafts of excised and unpublished scenes and chapters, as well as project-specific research files, outlines, editorial correspondence, and promotion files.
Research files are available for almost every book documented in the collection, as well as many of Wolfe's articles and essays. These files consist primarily of stenography notebooks (often labeled "Books of Numbers") that contain handwritten notes, observations, interview transcriptions, and scene descriptions. Research files also include clippings, photographs, printed material, and sound recordings of interviews gathered by Wolfe during the research phase of many writing projects. The research files chart the creation of Wolfe's books, essays, and articles, and, together with his manuscripts, show how his observations and interviews were translated into published works.
The papers also include lectures, drawings, sketches, and photographs.
The Tom Wolfe papers are arranged in seven series:
Wolfe's correspondence documents his professional and social relationships throughout his career. The bulk of the correspondence dates from 1965 to 2000, with large volumes of letters received following the publication of Wolfe's best-known books, including Radical Chic and Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers (1970), The Right Stuff (1979), From Bauhaus to Our House (1981), and the serialization (1984-1985) and publication (1987) of The Bonfire of the Vanities. The series consists primarily of incoming correspondence, with most of Wolfe's outgoing letters dated before 1960 and after 1990.
Correspondence contains letters with other writers, editors, publishers, and cultural figures, including Gordon Lish, Clay Felker, Jann Wenner, John Anstey, Hunter S. Thompson, Emmett Tyrell, William F. Buckley, Jr., Christopher Buckley, Liz Smith, and George Plimpton. Letters from the 1960s to the 1980s with editors at Esquire, Rolling Stone, Harper's, and the Weekend Telegraph chart the development of Wolfe's career as he transitioned from beat reporter to cultural commentator. There is also correspondence with nonfiction writers such as Gay Talese, Joan Didion, John Gregory Dunne, Norman Mailer, and Susan Sontag. Letters from fellow writers contain discussion of Wolfe's writings, new publications by other writers, contemporary news items, and social updates. The business aspects of Wolfe's career are shown in letters with agents Lynn Nesbit and Pat Kavanagh, attorney Alvin Deutsch, and editors and publishers at Farrar, Straus and Giroux and Little, Brown, including Henry Robbins, Roger Straus, Bob Giroux, Pat Strachan, and Jonathan Galassi. Manuscript files in Series IV: Writings also contain correspondence regarding the editing, publication, and promotion of Wolfe's work.
Wolfe's sources and collaborators represented in the correspondence include E.W. Johnson, co-editor of The New Journalism; activist Kailey Wong and writers Larry Dietz and Bill van Petten, all of whom worked with Wolfe on his 1960s California articles; architect Edgar Tafel and architecture critic Henry Hope Reed; and professor Marshall Fishwick. Many individuals who were the subjects of Wolfe's books and essays—including Marshall McLuhan, George Barris, Phil Spector, Neale Jones, Jackie Haddad, Hugh Hefner, the Mercury and Apollo astronauts, Robert Noyce, and John Silber—became correspondents who formed cordial relationships with Wolfe. Letters from readers range from enthusiastic fan mail to factual corrections and criticism, showing the public's varied responses to Wolfe's work and his engagement with readers. In addition to his professional writing career, Wolfe's correspondence also documents his involvement in New York City cultural institutions and his presidency of the East Sixties Property Owners Association.
The index of prominent and frequent correspondents includes the name of the correspondent, the dates of the letter/s (year only), number of items, and container locations. Correspondence with administrative personnel and junior editors at magazines, newspapers, book publishers, and literary agencies is listed under the name of the organization. Senior editors, publishers, and agents who were in frequent contact with Wolfe are listed under their own names. The index is not exhaustive and may not contain referents to every letter by an individual, or list every prominent correspondent found in the collection.
The correspondence is arranged chronologically, with the exception of two folders of letters from Gordon Lish, 1974-1982, which follow other correspondence from the year 1974.
Series II documents Wolfe's childhood creative work; his education at St. Christopher's School, Washington and Lee University, and Yale University; and writings prior to his first professional position as a journalist. Juvenilia includes Wolfe's childhood writings, as well as school and sports memorabilia such as report cards, awards, programs, score cards, and clippings. Other than clippings and game scores, there is little documentation of Wolfe's stint as a college and amateur baseball player. Wolfe's university and graduate school coursework is documented through essays, class notes, and assignments as well as research, drafts, and the final bound copy of his dissertation. Copies of school newspapers and literary journals from St. Christopher's School and Washington and Lee contain examples of Wolfe's earliest published work, which centers on sports and campus life. The titles "Jocko Thor's Keyhole Autobiography," "The Purple in the Kaleidoscope," and "Goddamn Frozen Chosen" represent Wolfe's writings independent of course assignments, showing an early interest in fiction writing.
Series III documents Wolfe's investigative process as a journalist and novelist employing the techniques of saturation reporting, the observation of events and subjects over an extended length of time. The bulk of the research files consist of stenography notebooks with interviews, scene observations, and notes on background research in published sources. Some of the stenography notebooks are labeled "Books of Numbers," especially those that date after the early 1970s, though the content does not differ. Many of Wolfe's notes are handwritten using a personalized form of Gregg shorthand. Notebook covers are often titled with brief descriptions of their contents, but may also include notes on topics not reflected in the title, especially those from the 1960s and 1970s. Topics correlate to Wolfe's projects for the time period, and include youth culture, art, journalism, the life of the writer and the artist, the cultural milieu of the mid-century decades, architecture, computer technology, neuroscience, Darwinism, and evolution.
Research files may also include library call slips showing books and periodicals consulted, correspondence with Wolfe's sources, clippings, photographs, programs, printed matter, and transcripts of interviews not conducted by Wolfe. Two files contain photographs from 1965 to 1969 that depict individuals and groups featured in Wolfe's mid-1960s essays, including Junior Johnson, Carol Doda, and the Pump House Gang. Some of these photographs served as the basis for Wolfe's drawings published in The Pump House Gang
Individual stenography notebooks in this series contain notes for multiple projects, many of which are short works. Wolfe's notebooks and research devoted to specific essays and books are filed in Series IV: Writings along with the manuscripts of those works. Readers seeking all of Wolfe's research files for a particular time period should review both this series and Series IV.
Series IV: Writings dates from 1955 to 2013, with the bulk of the material dating from 1960 to 1998. This series contains manuscripts of Wolfe's newspaper and magazine feature articles, essays, short stories, nonfiction books, and novels, as well as project-specific research files, outlines, editorial correspondence, and promotion files. The revision process of major essays and books is well-documented through multiple revisions with Wolfe's own inserted additions; copy changes by editors; printers' proofs and galleys with significant emendations; and excised, unpublished scenes and chapters. The series contains manuscripts for all of his books, most major magazine and newspaper features, and some early writing for the Springfield Union, the Washington Post, and the New York Herald Tribune. This series is arranged into Subseries IV.A. Short Works and Subseries IV.B. Books.
Series V: Lectures and Appearances contains incoming correspondence; research files; and draft, revised, and transcribed texts of Wolfe's lectures. Also documented are appearances—events at which Wolfe was a featured guest but may not have delivered formal comments. General lecture files from 1978 to 1987 contain rough outlines, lists of topics, and notes, with very few complete lectures. Complete written texts for lectures, dated after 1986, are arranged by lecture or event title; these files may also contain research notes or transcriptions of other lectures delivered at the event. Wolfe's lecture topics draw from his published work in the 1970s and 1980s—art criticism, New Journalism, and general observations about contemporary American culture. Lectures from the late 1980s focus on the use of social realism in novels, outlining Wolfe's assertion that contemporary American novelists had abandoned the genre. Early 21st century lectures on "The Human Beast," including Wolfe's National Endowment for the Humanities Jefferson Lecture in the Humanities, discuss Darwinism, evolution, and the concept of free will.
Incoming correspondence regarding lectures and appearances is also found in Series I of the collection; the letters in this series date largely from the 1970s, though requests for appearances during the 1970s are also filed in Series I.
Series VI contains of a small number of photographic prints and negatives from 1941 to the early 1980s. Early photographs include group and team portraits from Boys' State, Camp Virginia, and St. Christopher's School; Wolfe's freshman year portrait from Washington and Lee University; and casual snapshots and negatives from the late 1950s. Publicity photographs, contact sheets, and one oversize portrait from the mid-to-late 1960s show Wolfe around the time of the publication of The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby, The Pump House Gang, and The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. One set of photographs dates from 1983, depicting Wolfe, his family, and former high school classmates at the annual St. Christopher's Gotham Dogwood and Pine Needle party, held at his home.
Photographs are also found in Series I: Correspondence, as enclosures; Series III: Research Files; and Series IV: Writings.
Series VII consists of sketchbooks and loose drawings with Wolfe's original pencil and ink sketches from his childhood to the early 1970s, as well as slides and photostat reproductions. Sketchbooks primarily contain figure drawings, caricatures, and sketches of street scenes with some notes interspersed. Slides in the series contain drawings published in magazines, newspapers, and books, as well as those exhibited during the 1960s. A file of newspaper sketches contains photostat copies of sketches published in the Springfield Union and the Washington Post, some of which are uncredited or unsigned. Newspaper sketches range from caricatures of members of society to courtroom scenes. Some drawings in this series can be found published in Wolfe's books The Pump House Gang and In Our Time, and in his Harper's column "In Our Time."
Additional drawings are located in notebooks in Series III: Research Files. Printer-ready artwork for The Pump House Gang and Mauve Gloves and Madmen, Clutter and Vine is filed with manuscripts for each book in Series IV: Writings.