Tom Wolfe

Thomas Kennerly Wolfe, Jr. / 1930–2018 / Richmond, Virginia, USA / Journalist, Novelist, Essayist

The Art World

One of the few universal observations in the world of art is that you can always tell a major artist by the size of his entourage.

“The New Journalism,” New York Magazine, February 14, 1972; reprinted in The New Journalism (1973).

The modern notion of art is an essentially religious or magical one in which the artist is viewed as a holy beast who in some way, big or small, receives flashes from the godhead, which is known as creativity.

“The Painted Word,” in The Painted Word (1975).

The notion that the public accepts or rejects anything in modern art is merely romantic fiction. The game is completed and the trophies distributed long before the public knows what has happened.

“The Painted Word,” in The Painted Word (1975).


That baby is a very sentient creature. . . . That baby sees the world with a completeness that you and I will never know again. His doors of perception have not yet been closed. He still experiences the moment he lives in.

The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test (1968).

Challenging Oneself

If you aren’t already in over your head, how do you know how tall you are?

Source unknown.


A cult is a religion with no political power.

Interview with Ken Auletta, The New Yorker, June, 1996.


Sherman made the terrible discovery that men make about their fathers sooner or later… that the man before him was not an aging father but a boy, a boy much like himself, a boy who grew up and had a child of his own and, as best he could, out of a sense of duty and, perhaps love, adopted a role called Being a Father so that his child would have something mythical and infinitely important: a Protector, who would keep a lid on all the chaotic and catastrophic possibilities of life.

The Bonfire of the Vanities (1987).

Human Nature

The whole conviction of my life now rests upon the belief that loneliness, far from being a rare and curious phenomenon, is the central and inevitable fact of human existence.

“Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers,” in Radical Chic & Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers (1970).

The surest cure for vanity is loneliness.

The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test (1968).

Everybody, everybody everywhere, has his own movie going, his own scenario, and everybody is acting his movie out like mad, only most people don’t know that is what they’re trapped by, their little script.

The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test (1968).

One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.

Source unknown.

Sometimes we don’t even realize what we really care about, because we get so distracted by the symbols.

The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test (1968).

One of the few freedoms that we have as human beings that cannot be taken away from us is the freedom to assent to what is true and to deny what is false. Nothing you can give me is worth surrendering that freedom for.

A Man in Full (1998).


The language of our time has also been driven to the wall, as language always is in a tyranny.

“My Three Stooges,” in Hooking Up (2000).

Las Vegas

Las Vegas is the only town in the world whose skyline is made up neither of buildings, like New York, nor of trees, like Wilbraham, Massachusetts, but signs.

“The First Tycoon of Teen,” New York Herald Tribune Sunday Magazine, 1965; reprinted in Hooking Up (2000).


A lie may fool someone else, but it tells you the truth: you’re weak.

Source unknown.


Everything in everybody’s life is . . . significant. And everybody is alert, watching for the meanings.

The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test (1968).

New York

One belongs to New York instantly, one belongs to it as much in five minutes as in five years.

The Bonfire of the Vanities (1987).


The problem with fiction, it has to be plausible. That’s not true with non-fiction.

Interview with George Plimpton, The Paris Review, Summer, 1992.

Political Allegiance

If a conservative is a liberal who’s been mugged, a liberal is a conservative who’s been arrested.

In Our Time: Memoir of a Revolution (1980).

Prime of Life

One’s prime is elusive. You little girls, when you grow up, must be on the alert to recognize your prime at whatever time of your life it may occur. You must then live it to the full.

Commencement address, Boston University, May 21, 2000.

The Sixties

The world was simply and sheerly divided into ‘the aware’, those who had the experience of being vessels of the divine, and a great mass of “the unaware,” “the unmusical,” “the unattuned.”

The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test (1968).

Radical Chic, after all, is only radical in Style; in its heart it is part of Society and its traditions.

“Radical Chic: That Party at Lenny’s,” New York Magazine, 1970; reprinted in Radical Chic & Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers (1970).


The idea was that these kids, though they were so bright, were also supposed to be imbued with the spirit of the age.

I Am Charlotte Simmons (2004).


I went to see the Beatles last month… And I heard 20,000 girls screaming together at the Beatles… and I couldn’t hear what they were screaming, either . . . But you don’t have to… They’re screaming Me! Me! Me! Me! . . . I’m Me! . . . That’s the cry of the ego, and that’s the cry of this rally! . . .  Me! Me! Me! Me! . . . And that’s why wars get fought . . . ego . . . because enough people want to scream Pay attention to Me… Yep, you’re playing their game . . .

The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test (1968).

Wolfe on Wolfe

I’d rather be a lightning rod than a seismograph.

The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test (1968).


What I write when I force myself is generally just as good as what I write when I’m feeling inspired. It’s mainly a matter of forcing yourself to write.

Source unknown.

To me, the great joy of writing is discovering. Most writers are told to write about what they know, but I still love the adventure of going out and reporting on things I don’t know about.

Source unknown.