33¢ Thomas Wolfe
Literary Arts Series
Issue Date: October 3, 2000
City: Asheville, NC
Printed by: Ashton-Potter (USA) Ltd
Printing Method: Lithographed
The 17th stamp in the Literary Arts Series honors North Carolina-born author Thomas Wolfe. His novels, including "Look Homeward, Angel" (1929), "Of Time and the River" (1935), and "You Can't Go Home Again" (1940), are largely autobiographical. The central character in his first two works, Eugene Gant, is based on Wolfe as a young man.
Born in Asheville, North Carolina, Wolfe was the youngest of eight siblings. He grew up in his mothers boarding house until he went to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1916. After graduating, Wolfe went on to attend Harvard, where he studied playwriting. After graduating in 1922, Wolfe went to New York City to try to sell some of his plays. When he couldn’t sell any, he accepted a teaching position at New York University.
Wolfe soon began to realize that his writing style was more geared toward fiction than plays, so he began writing his first novel, Look Homeward, Angel. Set in a fictional small town based on his hometown of Asheville, the book was a largely autobiographical story of his childhood, reflecting a young man’s struggle in a small town.
The book was published just days before the stock market crash of 1929 and received positive reviews. However, many people in Asheville, including his own family, were unhappy with how they were seemingly portrayed. Wolfe then traveled to Europe on a Guggenheim Fellowship. Soon, Look Homeward, Angel was a bestseller in the United Kingdom and Germany.
Wolfe spent the next four years writing a sequel, Of Time and the River. Published in 1935, it was an even greater success than his first book. However, this time the people of Asheville were even more upset because they weren’t included in the story at all.
Wolfe published a short story, Chickamauga, in 1937, set during the Civil War Battle of the same name. Shortly after, he returned to Asheville for the first time since his first book was published. The following year, Wolfe went on a tour of the American West. After giving a lecture at Purdue University, he spent two weeks visiting 11 national parks. While in Seattle, he became sick with pneumonia and he was later diagnosed with miliary tuberculosis. Wolfe then went to Johns Hopkins Hospital, where it was discovered the disease had engulfed the whole right side of his brain. Wolfe went into a coma and died on September 15, 1938, just weeks before his 38th birthday.
Moving tributes poured in following Wolfe’s sudden death, including Time, which wrote, “of all American novelists of his generation, he was the one from whom most had been expected.” In the years following his death, Wolfe’s publisher released three books he’d written before his death: The Web and the Rock (1939), You Can’t Go Home Again (1940), and The Hills Beyond (1941). Several authors have cited Wolfe as an inspiration, including Jack Kerouac and Ray Bradbury.