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Legendary Journalist and Novelist Tom Wolfe Dead at 88

Tom Wolfe at the William F. Buckley Prize Dinner. (Courtesy of National Review Institute )

Renowned journalist, essayist, and novelist Tom Wolfe passed away on Monday at the age of 88, his agent Lynn Nesbit has confirmed to the Associated Press. He had recently been hospitalized with an infection.

Wolfe was known for the colorful prose and explosive punctuation he used to document everything from space exploration to the hippie counter-culture. He pioneered “new journalism,” becoming one of the first reporters to incorporate literary techniques into his work, and “saturation reporting,” in which a reporter embeds with and shadows his subject.

“To pull it off, you casually have to stay with the people you are writing about for long stretches … long enough so that you are actually there when revealing scenes take place in their lives,” Wolfe said of his reporting style.

In The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, he chronicled the blossoming psychedelic counter-culture of the 1960s, following Ken Kesey and his Merry Pranksters as they spread the gospel of LSD on their cross-country travels in a repurposed school bus. In The Right Stuff, he told the stories of the “Mercury Seven,” the first astronauts assigned to the NASA space program, as well as Air Force test pilot Chuck Yeager, whom many considered a superior flyer despite the fact that he was passed over by NASA. And in his novel The Bonfire of the Vanities, he satirized the lust for power and wealth in 1980s New York.

“He is probably the most skillful writer in America — I mean by that he can do more things with words than anyone else,” William F. Buckley, Jr., once wrote of Wolfe in National Review.

Wolfe, who had lived in Manhattan since 1962, is survived by Sheila Wolfe, his wife of 48 years, and their two children, Alexandra and Tommy.

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