US author Tom Wolfe dies at 88

AFP, NEW YORK

Thu, May 17, 2018 - Page 7

Author Tom Wolfe, the acerbic chronicler of US society known for best-selling books The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, The Right Stuff and The Bonfire of the Vanities, has died at the age of 88.

Wolfe’s agent Lynn Nesbit told US media the writer died on Monday in a Manhattan hospital, where he was being treated for an infection.

“We are incredibly saddened to hear about the passing of Tom Wolfe,” his publisher Picador said. “He was one of the greats and his words will live on forever.”

During a prolific career, Wolfe turned his flamboyant pen and keen eye to pop culture, the hippie movement, the art world, race relations and Wall Street, but he is perhaps best known for his 1979 non-fiction bestseller The Right Stuff about the US space program and the original Mercury astronauts.

Wolfe is credited with contributing the phrase “the right stuff” and another from the book, “pushing the envelope,” to the American lexicon.

Among those paying tribute to Wolfe on Tuesday was US astronaut Scott Kelly.

“He changed my life, and I am grateful I was able to thank him for the wildly unrealistic dream he gave me as an 18 year old boy,” Kelly tweeted. “He was the #RightStuff.”

Wolfe’s first book, The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby, published in 1965, was born out of a collection of articles about the 1960s he wrote for Esquire and New York magazines.

The book became a bestseller and placed Wolfe alongside other figures in the “New Journalism” movement, which also included Hunter S. Thompson, Norman Mailer and Truman Capote.

His 1970 book Radical Chic and Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers, examined racial tensions in the US and lampooned some of the good intentions of New York liberals in awkward detail, while his 1975 book about the US art world, The Painted Word, outraged many artists with its depiction of an insular village.

Wolfe moved to writing novels in the mid-1980s, penning The Bonfire of the Vanities, a scathing takedown of greed and excess in New York.

Thomas Kennerly Wolfe was born on March 2, 1930 in Richmond, Virginia. After getting his doctorate in American studies from Yale University, he began a 10-year-long career as a newspaper reporter.

A dapper dresser and New York icon, he was known for his trademark white suits and hats.

He married Sheila Berger, the artistic director of Harper’s magazine, in 1978. They had two children.