Thomas Kennerly “Tom” Wolfe was born March 2, 1931, to Louise Agnew and Thomas Kennerly Wolfe, Sr. in Richmond, Virginia. Wolfe attended St. Christopher's School, an Episcopalian all-boys school in Richmond, Virginia, where he became student council president, editor of the school newspaper and a star baseball player. He received a BA in English from Washington and Lee University, in 1951. He continued to play baseball in college and earned a tryout with the New York Giants as a pitcher, but was cut after three days. He then enrolled in Yale University’s American Studies graduate program, earning a Ph.D. in 1957. Wolfe’s graduate studies helped him to develop a more complete understanding of his cultural environment, which he subsequently applied to his writings. Turning down academic positions after graduation, Wolfe continued to work as a newspaper reporter, a job he began in 1956 with the Springfield Union (Springfield, Massachusetts).
In 1959, Wolfe moved to the Washington Post but found writing about politics uninteresting. In 1962, he took a reporting job at the New York Herald Tribune where his editors encouraged him to become more adventurous and creative in his articles. Wolfe followed their lead and is today considered one of the seminal writers to practice New Journalism, a style he helped develop in the 1960’s that combines news reporting with the literary practices. Wolfe continued to practice this writing style when he began writing books. An example of this technique is found in The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test (1968). In this book, which described the adventures of the Merry Pranksters, a famous sixties counter-culture group, Wolfe used onomatopoeia, free association, and eccentric punctuation — such as multiple exclamation marks and italics — to convey the manic ideas and personalities of the Pranksters.
Besides his journalistic activities, Wolfe has also written novels, art criticism, and various non-fiction works on such topics as architecture, popular culture, and politics. Recognition for his writing includes the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters Harold D. Vursell Memorial Award for prose style; the American Book Award for Nonfiction; and Columbia University Journalism Award. The collection contains materials from 1968 to 1982, covering proofs of three nonfiction works.
Stuart T. Wright
The Tom Wolfe Papers were collected and compiled by Stuart T. Wright. Wright was born on 30 March 1948 in Roxboro, North Carolina. He was the son of Frances Critcher Wright (1919-2010) and Wallace Lyndon Wright (1921-1965). An avid reader as a boy, Wright developed a strong interest in the American Civil War and with his father toured many of the war’s battlefields searching for artifacts and studying the history of the era. At the age of 12, he won a statewide “Johnny Reb” essay contest and by the age of 15 had visited every major battlefield of the Civil War. Wright attended Roxboro High School, from which he graduated in 1966. It was during these years that he developed an interest in collecting historical books and manuscripts and began relationships with a number of local collectors and dealers.
In the fall of 1966, Wright enrolled at Wake Forest University as a pre-med, history, German and music student. Wright earned a B.A. in German and music in 1970. As a graduate student at Wake Forest University, Wright focused his studies on Southern history and literature, his ambition being to build an authoritative Southern Studies collection for the university. He received a master's degree in Southern Studies in 1973 and a second master's degree in U.S. History in 1980. Additionally Wright holds a professional degree from England in a medically related field. It was while studying there that he became interested in Thomas Wolfe, the noted North Carolina native and novelist.
Following his graduation from Wake Forest, Wright began to develop his collections more systematically, acquiring many first editions of Southern writers. In 1976 he began teaching at Reynolda House, a Wake Forest University affiliate dedicated to the arts and arts education. Wright taught classes in American music as well as human anatomy for art students. In 1978 Wright became Lecturer in Education at Wake Forest University. During his 10 years teaching at Wake Forest University, Wright authored numerous works of Civil War and North Carolina history, and dozens of articles, bibliographies, essays and reviews on Southern literature and the writers whose papers he collected. In addition, he developed a strong interest in the writings of the English poet Donald Davie and the Minnesota-born poet Richard Eberhart, whose works he also collected.
At the same time, Wright also began a career as a publisher by starting Palaemon Press in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. By 1984, Palaemon Press had produced 316 titles, consisting mainly of broadsides and limited editions, of the poetry and essays of such Southern writers as A. R. Ammons, Fred Chappell, James Dickey, William Goyen, George Garrett, and Eudora Welty. He also built comprehensive collections and compiled book-length descriptive bibliographies of A.R. Ammons, Andrew Lytle, Reynolds Price, James Dickey, William Goyen, Walker Percy, Randall Jarrell, Peter Taylor, George Garrett, Richard Eberhart, and Donald Davie. As well as serving as editor of the contemporary literature section of the Bulletin of Bibliography throughout the 1980s, Wright also contributed pioneering checklists of the writings of Southern poets Henry Taylor, Charles Wright, and Robert Morgan. For Meckler Publishing he served as series editor for a number of book-length bibliographies and checklists. In recognition of these accomplishments, when he was just 32, Wright was elected to membership in New York's prestigious Grolier Club.
All of these works are represented in the Stuart Wright Collection. In his dealings with these various authors Wright made consistent efforts to acquire personal papers, letters and documents, photographs, manuscripts, drafts, proofs, and published materials to supplement his continuing activities as a purchaser of their works. In this way, Wright acquired perhaps a majority of his overall collection. Over the years a number of biographers used Wright’s collection to aid their research. For example, James A. Grimshaw, Jr. used the collection extensively for his Robert Penn Warren: A Descriptive Bibliography, 1922-1979 published by the University Press of Virginia, in 1981 and Craig S. Abbott did so as well for John Crowe Ransom: A Descriptive Bibliography, published by Whitston Publishing Company, Inc. in 1999. Joseph Blotner also used the Wright collection in researching Robert Penn Warren: A Biography, published by Random House in 1997.
Nevertheless, from the mid- to late 1980s, Wright began to look for a permanent home for his collection, which he felt had grown too large and yet had been too little used. Unable to find a repository willing to accept the entire collection under suitable conditions, he sold a number of individual author collections to Vanderbilt University, Duke University, the University of Texas at Austin, and Emory University. It was not until 2010 that he reached agreement to house the remaining, and largest part of his collection at East Carolina University. The Stuart Wright Collection in the East Carolina Manuscript Collection of J.Y. Joyner Library includes 22 sub-collections of the papers of Southern American writers. The related Stuart Wright Book Collection holds several thousand volumes by or about many of the same writers. Many of these volumes contain annotations, inscriptions, and insertions that reveal much about the authors in the collection and their relationships with one another. In 1998 Wright moved to England, and since 2001 he has resided in the medieval market town of Ludlow, in Shropshire.