Milton author’s memorable encounter with Tom Wolfe

Tom Wolfe
Stephanie Klein-Davis/The Roanoke Times via AP/file 2005
Tom Wolfe

Fans and friends of the writer Tom Wolfe took to Twitter to share some kind words and remembrances after the pioneering journalist’s death this week at the age of 88. “Tom Wolfe has died,” tweeted New Yorker writer Susan Orlean. “His work changed my life and convinced me to write nonfiction. Fare thee well, Tom.”

In Milton, meanwhile, writer Stephen Davis spooled back to a spring day in 1987, when he found himself seated beside Wolfe at the New York Book Fair. Davis was busy signing copies of his book about “Howdy Doody,” titled “Say Kids! What Time Is It?,” while Wolfe was there promoting his first novel, “The Bonfire of the Vanities.”

“During a lull, Tom leaned over and said he wanted to read my book,” recalls Davis. “I thought, ‘Am I on acid?’ ”


Davis said he asked Wolfe if he’d ever considered teaching writing, and the author famous for such nonfiction pieces as “The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test” and “The Right Stuff” just laughed.

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“You can’t really teach this stuff, can you?” Wolfe said. “The only thing an older writer can do for a younger writer is — die.”

The two writers signed copies of each other’s books and said goodbye. When Davis got home that night, he looked at the title page of “Say Kids! What Time Is It?” It read: “Good luck with Howdy Doody. I promise to die first. Best wishes, Tom Wolfe.”