Thomas Wolfe was born on October 3, 1900 in Asheville, North Carolina. He shares his home state with his fictional character Eugene Gant from Look Homeward, Angel, the novel that is most commonly associated with the author. Though Wolfe largely remains absent from current Modernist studies, he was praised by writers during his time. William Faulkner ranked his contemporaries during his residency at the University of Virginia, giving Wolfe the number one spot. He calls Look Homeward, Angel Wolfe’s “most splendid failure,” as “he had tried hardest to take all the experience that he was capable of observing and imagining and put it down in one book, on the head of a pin.” He goes on to praise Wolfe for his “courage to experiment” and “to write nonsense, to be foolish, to be sentimental, in the attempt to get down the — that single moving and passionate instance of man’s struggle.”
Wolfe is typified by the length of his writing, as he is famously known for turning stacks of thousands of manuscript pages to his Scribner’s editor, Maxwell Perkins. (Perkins was also the editor of Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald. For more on Perkins, check out A. Scott Berg’s novel Max Perkins: Editor of Genius, or Genius, a movie based on Perkins’s time as editor.)
If interested in Wolfe, but fearful to take on the unwieldy task of his lengthy novels, he also wrote short stories and poetry. His poetry collection A Stone, A Leaf, A Door contains many overlapping themes found within Look Homeward, Angel. The lull of Wolfe’s poetry will likely leave you wanting more. In that case, look homeward to Wolfe’s magnum opus for one of the most pleasurable 20th century reads.