Tom Wolf's Most Incisive and Inspiring Quotes

When it comes to voices who changed the way Americans look at journalism, acclaimed author and reporter Tom Wolfe earned a dedicated spot on the shortlist. That he also wrote critically acclaimed and bestselling novels earned him a place in the literary pantheon.

The writer, who passed away this week at age 87, was a pioneer in the form that would become known as “New Journalism” alongside the likes of Norman Mailer, Joan Didion, and Hunter S. Thompson. Wolfe’s works included the The Right Stuff (which would go on to be adapted into an Academy Award-winning film) and the psychedelic, The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, as well the iconic The Bonfire of The Vanities. In remembrance of this great American voice, we’ve collected some of the author’s wittiest, most incisive, and most poignant quotes.

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ON GENRE

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

ON EXPERIENCE

“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.”

ON HIS STYLE

“People complain about my exclamation points, but I honestly think that’s the way people think. I don’t think people think in essays; it’s one exclamation point to another. … I used to enjoy using dots where they would be least expected, not at the end of a sentence but in the middle, creating the effect… of a skipped beat. It seemed to me the mind reacted – first!… in dots, dashes, and exclamation points, then rationalized, drew up a brief, with periods.”

ON ART

“Art is a creed, not a craft.”

ON LANGUAGE

“It’s fortunate that I am a writer, because that has helped me understand the properties of words. They are what have made life complex. In the battle for status in the animal kingdom, power and aggressiveness have been all-important. But among humans, once they acquired speech, all that changed.”

ON BEING A REPORTER

“It’s not just that reporting gives you a bigger slice of life, gives – lends verisimilitude to what you are doing – it’s that it feeds the imagination.”

ON CREATIVITY

“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.”

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ON NEW JOURNALISM

“I have no idea who coined the term ‘the New Journalism,’ or when it was coined. I have never even liked the term. Any movement, group, party, program, philosophy or theory that goes under a name with ‘new’ in it is just begging for trouble, of course.”

ON NEW YORK

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

ON INTELLECTUALS

“We must be careful to make a distinction between the intellectual and the person of intellectual achievement. They two are very, very different animals. There are people of intellectual achievement who increase the sum of human knowledge, the powers of human insight, and analysis. And then there are the intellectuals. An intellectual is a person knowledgeable in one field who speaks out only in others.”

ON READING

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

ON WRITING

“It’s the hardest work in the world. The only thing that will get you through it is maybe someone will applaud when it’s over.”

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