When Thomas Wolfe looked homeward, it was to Asheville, NC. The city, under the pseudonym “Altamont,” even provided the backdrop for one of the author’s most revered works, the autobiographical Look Homeward Angel published in 1929.
Breathing such life into the location that it emerged as a fully developed, flesh-and-bone character, Wolfe propelled his Southern home beyond the rural mountains that encircled it and gave it a permanent place on the literary landscape. The Old Kentucky Home boardinghouse on Spruce Street where Wolfe spent much of his childhood — immortalized as “Dixieland” in Homeward — now stands as one of Asheville’s most famous landmarks. And the Carrara angel that so inspired the writer can be found just 22 miles south of Asheville in Hendersonville’s Oakdale Cemetery.
The author himself, who died of tuberculosis of the brain in 1938, is buried in Asheville’s Riverside Cemetery. Etched on his tombstone are words he immortalized in The Web and the Rock: “Death bent to touch his chosen son with mercy, love and pity, and put the seal of honor on him when he died.”
These days, Asheville is putting the seal of honor on its most famous son with the Thomas Wolfe Centennial Celebration. Through the author’s birthday on Oct. 3, Wolfe fans can retrace the author’s steps on a walking tour of landmarks, attend art exhibitions and even take part in a birthday celebration. For more information, contact the Thomas Wolfe Memorial at (828) 253-8304 or visit <www.wolfememorial.com>.
The Thomas Wolfe Collection, which includes manuscripts, correspondence and other material, can be found at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Wilson Library (919-962-1172 <www.lib.unc.edu/ncc/wolfe>). While many of Asheville’s residents were dismayed by their often unflattering portrayal in Homeward — the book was even banned from the public library — the city now clearly treasures the angel that is Thomas Wolfe.
Are you still hungry for more information about Thomas Wolfe’s life, hometown and work? Visit these sites to get your fill of facts about the author of Look Homeward Angel.
• Asheville, North Carolina Convention & Visitors Bureau
<www.exploreasheville.com>: Thinking about visiting Thomas Wolfe’s hometown? Check out this site to find out where to stay, what to do, where to dine and how to get around.
• Biography of Thomas Wolfe
<www.ncwriters.org/twolfe.htm>: This site has information covering everything you’d ever want to know about Thomas Wolfe, including a list of his books and appearances in periodicals.
• The Thomas Wolfe Collection
<www.lib.unc.edu/ncc/wolfe>: Browse the collection housed at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. At this site, you can access photographs, selected letters, family memorabilia, clippings and recorded materials, among other items.
• The Thomas Wolfe Web site
<library.uncwil.edu/wolfe/wolfe.html>: Learn about Wolfe’s life and work with links to the photo gallery, a bibliography, information about the Thomas Wolfe Society and more.
From Family Tree Magazine‘s May 2003 Heritage Travel.