Remembering Tom Wolfe, American writer with an 'anthropologist's delight'

ImageTom Wolfe in 1988. He was known for his verbal pyrotechnics in books like “The Right Stuff.”CreditÁngel Franco  The New York Times

Reports suggest he was battling an infection and pneumonia in hospital when he died.

His agent, Lynn Nesbit confirmed his death. "He's dignified through and through".

Wolfe, known for his signature white suit, was easily recognizable when taking walks in his neighborhood. "All the same, he was one of the most modest and kindest people I have ever met".

The National Book Awards also paid tribute. The film version of "The Right Stuff", about the Mercury Seven astronauts, was directed by Philip Kaufman in 1983.

Heading to New York City in 1962, he worked at the New York Herald Tribune, which encouraged its writers to break the conventions of newspaper writing.

In a career spanning more than half a century, Wolfe wrote fiction and non-fiction bestsellers, starting with The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby (1965).

The author and journalist will be remembered as a pioneer of New Journalism, a style of news writing developed in the 1960s and 1970s.

When Yale's American Studies dons rejected his doctoral thesis, he wrote a pal: "These stupid f***s have turned down namely my dissertation".

"I probably have given that impression in the past, but I didn't", he said. Nine years later and in a more restrained style than some of his earlier works, he wrote "The Right Stuff" about the first seven US astronauts and test pilot Chuck Yeager who came before them. He had a pitiless eye and a penchant for spotting trends and then giving them names, some of which - like "Radical Chic" and "the Me Decade" - became American idioms.

"Everything that bloggers have done for journalism - and I personally think they've done a lot - Wolfe did it first, he did it 30 years earlier, and he did it better", novelist Rex Grossman told NPR.

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