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TOM WOLFE INTERVIEW-AND ABOUT

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TOM WOLFE INTERVIEW-AND ABOUT

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TOM WOLFE INTERVIEWED FOR TIME MAGAZINE

About Tom Wolfe

Tom Wolfe was born and raised in Richmond, Virginia. He was educated at Washington and Lee (B.A., 1951) and Yale (Ph.D., American Studies, 1957) universities. In December 1956, he took a job as a reporter on the Springfield (Massachusetts) Union. This was the beginning of a ten-year newspaper career, most of it spent as a general assignment reporter. For six months in 1960 he served as The Washington Post’s Latin American correspondent and won the Washington Newspaper Guild’s foreign news prize for his coverage of Cuba.

In 1962 he became a reporter for the New York Herald-Tribune and, in addition, one of the two staff writers (Jimmy Breslin was the other) of New York magazine, which began as the Herald-Tribune’s Sunday supplement. While still a daily reporter for the Herald-Tribune, he completed his first book, a collection of articles about the flamboyant Sixties written for New York and Esquire and published in 1965 by Farrar, Straus, and Giroux as The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby. The book became a bestseller and established Wolfe as a leading figure in the literary experiments in nonfiction that became known as New Journalism.

In 1968 he published two bestsellers on the same day: The Pump House Gang, made up of more articles about life in the sixties, and The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, a nonfiction story of the hippie era. In 1970 he published Radical Chic & Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers, a highly controversial book about racial friction in the United States. The first section was a detailed account of a party Leonard Bernstein gave for the Black Panthers in his Park Avenue duplex, and the second portrayed the inner workings of the government’s poverty program.

Even more controversial was Wolfe’s 1975 book on the American art world, The Painted Word. The art world reacted furiously, partly because Wolfe kept referring to it as the “art village,” depicting it as a network of no more than three thousand people, of whom about three hundred lived outside the New York metropolitan area. In 1976 he published another collection, Mauve Gloves & Madmen, Clutter & Vine, which included his well-known essay “The Me Decade and the Third Great Awakening.”

In 1979 Wolfe completed a book he had been at work on for more than six years, an account of the rocket airplane experiments of the post World War II era and the early space program focusing upon the psychology of the rocket pilots and the astronauts and the competition between them. The Right Stuff became a bestseller and won the American Book Award for nonfiction, the National Institute of Arts and Letters Harold Vursell Award for prose style, and the Columbia Journalism Award.

“The right stuff,” “radical chic,” and “the Me Decade” (sometimes altered to “the Me Generation”) all became popular phrases, but Wolfe seems proudest of “good ol’ boy,” which he introduced to the written language in a 1964 article in Esquire about Junior Johnson, the North Carolina stock car racing driver, which was called “The Last American Hero.”

Wolfe had been illustrating his own work in newspapers and magazines since the 1950s, and in 1977 he began doing a monthly illustrated feature for Harper’s Magazine called “In Our Time.” The book In Our Time , published in 1980, featured these drawings and many others. In 1981 he wrote a companion to The Painted Word entitled From Bauhaus to Our House, about the world of American architecture.

In 1984 and 1985 Wolfe wrote his first novel, The Bonfire of the Vanities, in serial form against a deadline of every two weeks for Rolling Stone magazine. It came out in book form in 1987. A story of the money-feverish 1980s in New York, The Bonfire of the Vanities was number one of the New York Times bestseller list for two months and remained on the list for more than a year, selling over 800,000 copies in hardcover. It also became the number-one bestselling paperback, with sales above two million.

In 1989 Wolfe outraged the literacy community with an essay in Harper’s called “Stalking the Billion-footed Beast.” In it he argued that the only hope for the future of the American novel was a Zolaesque naturalism in which the novelist becomes the reporter-as he had done in writing The Bonfire of the Vanities, which was recognized as the essential novel of America in the 1980s.

In 1996 Wolfe wrote the novella “Ambush at Fort Bragg” as a two-part series for Rolling Stone. In 1997 it was published as a book in France and Spain and as an audiotape in the United States. An account of a network television magazine show’s attempt to trap three soldiers at Fort Bragg into confessing to the murder of one of their comrades, it grew out of what had been intended as one theme in a novel Wolfe was working on at that time. The novel, A Man in Full, was published in November 1998. The book’s protagonists are a sixty-year-old Atlanta real estate developer whose empire has begun a grim slide toward bankruptcy and a twenty-three-year-old manual laborer who works in the freezer unit of a wholesale food warehouse in Alameda County, California, owned by the developer. Before the story ends, both have had to face the question of what is it that makes a man “a man in full” now, at the beginning of a new century and a new millennium.

A Man in Full headed the New York Times bestseller list for ten weeks and has sold nearly 1.4 million copies in hardcover. The book’s tremendous commercial success, its enthusiastic welcome by reviewers, and Wolfe’s appearance on the cover of Time magazine in his trademark white suit plus a white homburg and white kid gloves-along with his claim that his sort of detailed realism was the future of the American novel, if it was going to have one-provoked a furious reaction among other American novelists, notably John Updike, Norman Mailer, and John Irving.

In October 2000 Wolfe published Hooking Up, a collection of fiction and non fiction concerning the turn of the new century, entitled Hooking Up. It included Ambush at Fort Bragg and, for the first time since their original publication in the Herald-Tribune, his famous essays on William Shawn and The New Yorker, “Tiny Mummies!” and “Lost in the Whichy Thickets.” His new novel I Am Charlotte Simmons, is now available in paperback from Picador.
Wolfe lives in New York City with his wife, Sheila; his daughter, Alexandra; and his son, Tommy.

The Bonfire of the Vanities
by Tom Wolfe
Published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1987
Reissued by Picador, 2008
ISBN-13: 978-0-312-42757-3
$16.00

Purchase this book from Macmillan

Sherman McCoy, the central figure of Tom Wolfe’s first novel, is a young investment banker with a fourteen-room apartment in Manhattan. When he is involved in a freak accident in the Bronx, prosecutors, politicians, the press, the police, the clergy, and assorted hustlers high and low close in on him, licking their chops and giving us a gargantuan helping of the human comedy of New York in the last years of the twentieth century, a city boiling over with racial and ethnic hostilities and burning with the itch to Grab It Now. Wolfe’s gallery ranges from Wall Street, where people in their thirties feel like small-fry if they’re not yet making a million per, to the real streets, where the aim is lower but the itch is just as virulent.

We see this feverish landscape through the eyes of McCoy’s wife and his mistress; the young prosecutor for whom the McCoy case would be he answer to a prayer; the ne’er-do-well British journalist who needs such a case to save his career in America; the street-wise Irish lawyer who becomes McCoy’s only ally; and Reverend Bacon of Harlem, a master manipulator of public opinion. Above all, we see what happens when the criminal justice system-gorged with “the chow,” as the Bronx prosecutor calls the borough’s usual black and Latin felons-considers the prospect of being banded a prime cut like Sherman McCoy of Park Avenue.

The Bonfire of the Vanities is a novel, but it is based on the same sort of detailed on-scene reporting as Wolfe’s great nonfiction bestsellers, The Right Stuff, Radical Chic & Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers, and The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. And it is every bit as eye-opening in its achievements. It is a big, panoramic story of the metropolis-the kind of fiction strangely absent from our literature in the second half of this century-that reinforces Tom Wolfe’s reputation as the foremost chronicler of the way we live in America.

Reviews

“A big, bitter, funny, craftily plotted book that grabs you by the lapels and won’t let go.” -The New York Times Book Review

“Brilliant . . .” -People “Impossible to put down . . .” -The Wall Street Journal

“Delicious fun . . .” -The New York Times

“A smash . . .” -Philadelphia Inquirer

“Marvelous . . .” -Business Week

“Richly entertaining . . .” -Washington Post Book World

“It’s the human comedy, on a skyscraper scale and at a taxi-meter pace . . .” -Newsweek

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Matt Taibbi on the 40th Anniversary of Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72, Hunter S. Thompson

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Q&A: Matt Taibbi on the 40th Anniversary of Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72, Hunter S. Thompson’s influence, and Why Barack Obama Isn’t a Great Shark

The Rolling Stone writer penned the introduction for the latest edition of the bookMatt Taibbi, like many journalists, grew up idolizing Hunter S. Thompson. But Taibbi, unlike many journalists, got Hunter S. Thompson’s job.

The similarities between the two Rolling Stone scribes do not stop there, even though Taibbi himself argues he’s nothing like Thompson. Both made their name pointing out hypocrisies and flaws in the U.S. government. Both thrived (one still is) at a time of turmoil in our country’s history. Both even managed to love the same sport, the game of football. And now both have their name on the cover of the same book. Taibbi was given the responsibility of writing a new introduction to the 40th-anniversary edition of one of Thompson’s seminal works, Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72, which releases today.

In his introduction, Taibbi highlights the importance of Thompson’s writing, calling him the “most instantly trustworthy” American narrator since Mark Twain, and argues that the book still continues to define the way we think about the dramas of politics. Taibbi stopped by The Village Voice office (where he was a summer intern in 1987) to chat about Thompson’s influence, how Thompson lives up to his own cliche, and why Obama would disappoint Thompson, were Thompson still alive.

Rolling Stone Contributing Editor Matt Taibbi

Rolling Stone Contributing Editor Matt Taibbi

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Hunter S. Thompson
Barack Obama
Matt Taibbi
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Arts, Entertainment, and Media

When did you first read Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72?
I remember my father [Emmy-winning journalist Mike Taibbi] telling me about when Thompson was writing the pieces in Rolling Stone at the time–not the book, but the monthly dispatches. It was such a unique thing because everybody was waiting for it at the end of every month. I didn’t read the book till I was pretty old. I read Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas when I was in high school, and I probably read this when I was a senior in college.

Did you ever meet him?
No, but I talked to him on the phone once. That was close as I came. I was going to be hired by a publishing company to edit a compilation of gonzo journalism, and I was really broke at the time. So I sat down to really think about this project, and the more I thought about it, the more I realized that gonzo journalism just means Hunter Thompson. There aren’t other examples of gonzo journalism. I tried to put something together, but then I called Thompson up and basically explained the dilemma: “I got stuck with this assignment, and what do you think of it, because if you’re not into it, I’m probably not into it.” And he goes [adopting a deep, gravelly voice], “That’s a shitty assignment. How badly do you need the money?” And I said, “Pretty badly.” And he said, “Well, I don’t envy you.” And that’s how he left it, so I decided not to do it.

You wrote in the introduction that Campaign Trail has become the bible for political reporting. Do you think it was the writing, the campaign itself, or did the stars just align?
I think it’s a lot of different reasons. Obviously, the writing has something to do with it, but as I talk about in the introduction, he created these archetypal characters that everyone has sort’ve used since as templates to compare each new slate of candidates and characters to. Almost every campaign has the bad guy, the hopeless do-gooding ideologue. I caught myself doing it when I covered the 2004 campaign, when Dennis Kucinich became my McGovern character. No writer wants to be caught copying another writer, but it just bleeds into your consciousness because we’ve all read that book so many times. There have been some other campaign books, like The Boys on the Bus, The Selling of the President, and all that, but none of them really, none of them really…

None of them start with a guy driving down a highway with a gun.
Right, exactly. It just made the whole thing accessible to people who don’t even care about politics. It’s iconic.

In the intro, you say Thompson is the most trustworthy American narrator since Mark Twain. What is it about his prose that gives you that feeling? I think many people feel that way, yet everyone always wonders if he’s making some stuff up.
Oh, he’s definitely embellishing. That’s not what you care about. I have no doubt that a lot of the things in that book didn’t happen that way. Writing is all about feeling your audience and maintaining a connection with them, and being able to anticipate what they’re going to respond to, what they’re going to think is funny, what they’re going to find sympathetic, what they’re going to find unsympathetic. Hunter just had this unbelievable innate ability–like a lot of great public speakers do. If you’ve ever seen somebody who’s a great public speaker, they can feel the crowd and they know exactly how to move people this way or that way. And he’s kind of like that. He had this ability to grab his whole audience, drag them through this story, and you never really find yourself stepping back and saying, “Eh, well.” Once you’re in, you’re in the whole way through with him.
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ROLLING STONE COVER JANIS JOPLIN AND JANIS SINGING “ME AND BOBBY MCGEE

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Rolling Stone Magazine, October 1970

Rolling Stone Magazine, October 1970

San Francisco: Straight Arrow Publishers.On loan from Mike Furlough.

Jann Wenner was a student in San Francisco when he founded Rolling Stone Magazine in 1967. Rolling Stonewas at first a one page broadsheet that Wenner hawked from the back of his car, but it quickly grew into the biggest, most influential of all the rock magazines. Though Rolling Stone started out no differently than dozens of other city rock magazines, Wenner saw that the magazine could be a success on a national scale. His aggressive hustling brought him the coveted interviews with many of the biggest stars in Rock and Roll music.Rolling Stone is still widely read by younger rock fans of today. Shown is an issue from October 29, 1970, reporting on the then-recent death of Janis Joplin.

“ME AND BOBBY MCGEE”

Kristofferson and Foster wrote the song, first sung by Roger Miller. Kristofferson states that the film La Strada was an inspiration for the song.

HUNTER S. THOMPSON- AN AMERICAN OUTLAW

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HUNTER S. THOMPSON

Was born in Louisville Ky in 1937.He was an outlaw and literary figure. He loved guns and books. He was arrested at a young age for stealing a wallet with two other people.
He was part of a street gang of pranksters. He came from a poor family.

He was best know for writing “Fear and loathing in Las Vegas.” and creating Gonzo Journalism.” This is when a reporter gets so involved in the story he writes himself in the story. He was an alcoholic and drug user and always looking for a controversial story.
He became very interested in the counter culture of the 60’s.

He was married to Sandy Conklin in 1963 and they had one son, Juan. They were divorced in 1980.

His first book “Hells Angels A Strange And Terrible Saga” was published in 1967. He also wrote for “Rolling Stone” about the presidential campaign of 1972.

He was notorious for his outrageousness and being an anti authoritarian. He constantly terrorized his neighbors in Colorado.

Thompson was ill for several years and in 2005committed suicide by shooting himself. His ashes were shot from a cannon to “Mr. Tamborine Man” by Bob Dylan.