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Thursday, October 3, 2019

You 'Can' Go Home Again

“The reason a writer writes a book is to forget a book and the reason a reader reads one is to remember it.” – Thomas Wolfe

Born in Ashville, North Carolina on this date in 1900, Wolfe is considered one of America’s leading 20th century writers.  William Faulkner called him “the greatest talent of our generation,” and his home state often lists him as the greatest writer ever to come from there.

Wolfe wrote four lengthy novels as well as many short stories, dramatic works, and novellas before his early death (at age 37 from tuberculosis).  His works are often studied for their interesting mix of poetic, rhapsodic, and impressionistic prose with autobiographical writing and for their reflection of American culture and mores of the 1920s and ‘30s.

As a graduate student at Harvard in the early 1920s, Wolfe studied theatre and planned to be a playwright, but he could never keep his works short enough for the popular stage and eventually gravitated to fiction.  His first novel, Look Homeward, Angel, was nearly 350 thousand words before being drastically edited down by the famous Scribner’s editor Maxwell Perkins (also editor for both Hemingway and Fitzgerald).   

Often at odds with people in his hometown (both for including versions of them in his works and for excluding them in others), he based some of his final book You Can’t Go Home Again on that turbulent relationship.     Wolfe lived for a time in Europe, seemingly estranged from his home country, but after witnessing the growing brutality of Hitler’s Germany, he came back to America to stay.  “America - it is a fabulous country, the only fabulous country,” he said.   “It is the only place where miracles not only happen, but where they happen all the time.”

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