Thomas Wolfe: A Look Back on His Writings, Life, Home and Legacy

by Anne Johnson on April 29, 2014

in Collections, Education, History, Museum Issues, Shopping, Travel and Tourism

Thomas Wolfe is recognized as one of the best novelists of early 20th Century American literature and is often considered the most famous writer from North Carolina. Join us as we take a look back at his writings, his life, his home and his legacy.

Julia Wolfe, 85, talks about her son, American author Thomas Wolfe (Recorded in 1945)

Born in Asheville, on October 3rd, 1900, Wolfe was the youngest of eight children born to William Oliver Wolfe and Julia Elizabeth Westall. Though he had seven siblings, he was especially close with his brother Ben, who died at the early age of 26.

In 1906, Julia Wolfe bought a home on 48 Spruce Street. It was this house that became the boarding house featured in Wolfe’s most famous novel “Look Homeward, Angel.” While the rest of the Wolfe family lived in a home across the street, Thomas was raised by his mother in the boarding house, and his childhood expeiences were chronicled in his work, along with the various neighbors and boarders he met in his youth.

Thomas Wolfe Memorial
Historic photo of “The Old Kentucky Home” as Thomas Wolfe liked to call it. It is now known as the Thomas Wolfe Memorial and operates as a museum in downtown Asheville, NC.

In 1916 Wolfe enrolled at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He took his first playwriting course in 1919, but ironically never had much success in playwriting. His works were much more suited for fiction, and the year before the Great Depression, in 1929, “Look Homeward, Angel” was published. This was after his graduation from UNC in 1920 with a Bachelor’s Degree, and his subsequent graduation from Harvard in 1922 with his Master’s. Two other important events occurred before “Look Homeward, Angel” was published as well; Wolfe’s father died shortly after his graduation from Harvard, and in 1925 he met Aline Bernstein, a woman with whom he would have a notable affair, despite their 18 year age difference.

Thomas Wolfe reviewing a crate full of his manuscripts and other writings.

Before his death, September 15th, 1938, Wolfe had two of his novels published, “Look Homeward, Angel,” as well as “Of Time and the River,” an edited version of his longer manuscript “The October Fair.” One of his short stories, “Chickamauga” was released in 1937, a year before his death. Wolfe succumbed to tuberculosis, often thought to be caused by his childhood in the boarding house. Though she served boarders, Julia Westall’s customers were also patients suffering from the disease, seeking respite in the temperate North Carolina climate.

Thomas Wolfe sitting with his Mother on her front porch in Asheville, NC. This is one of the last known photos of Thomas before his death in 1938.

Despite his frequent travel, the boarding house where Wolfe lived with his mother is considered Thomas Wolfe’s home, and has been turned into a museum and a memorial for fans of the Southern author. Tourists can also visit on their travels through Asheville, and be treated to a lovely time. The Wolfe House contains many of the original items used by Julia Westall and her family, despite a fire that closed the house from 1998 until 2003.

Here at portal you can shop with hundreds of your favorite online retailers and a percentage of your purchase amount becomes a free donation to a museum or related organization of your choice. We encourage you to shop on behalf of the Thomas Wolfe Memorial when you go through the website.

Want to read works by Thomas Wolfe? Visit the author’s page on Amazon here.

Interested in adding Thomas Wolfe’s writings to your vintage book collection? Visit Abebooks to view the latest first edition and signed copies available for purchase.

We also encourage you to visit the Thomas Wolfe Memorial website, peruse their gallery and book a tour of the home and see for yourself the legacy left by Thomas Wolfe, and his family.

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