1900: Thomas Clayton Wolfe, the eighth child of William Oliver and Julia Elizabeth Westall Wolfe, is born on 3 October in Asheville, North Carolina. His father, a stonecutter, came from York Springs, Pennsylvania; his mother’s family, which originally settled in nearby Yancey County, had begun to move to Asheville to find work and establish businesses.
1904: Wolfe’s mother takes her children to St. Louis, Missouri, where she operates a boardinghouse for visitors to the Louisiana Purchase Exposition (the World’s Fair). Grover Cleveland Wolfe, the twin of Benjamin Harrison “Ben” Wolfe, dies of typhoid while the family is in St. Louis.
1905: Wolfe begins his schooling at the Orange Street Public School in Asheville; he attends by special arrangement since he is still underage.
1906: Wolfe’s mother buys a boardinghouse at 48 Spruce Street in Asheville, moving there permanently in October, an act separating the family since the others remain at the Wolfe home on Woodfin Street.
1908: Wolfe goes to live with his mother in the boardinghouse, the Old Kentucky Home, where he sometimes shares his mother’s bed.
1908-1913: Wolfe travels with his mother to Daytona and Palm Beach, Florida; Hot Springs, Arkansas, where he attends school for a few weeks; New Orleans; and Washington, D.C.
1912-1916: Recognized for his ability in composition, Wolfe is recruited for a newly established preparatory academy, the North State Fitting School. It was founded by Margaret and John Munsey Roberts, who both teach at the school. Wolfe later calls Margaret Roberts “the mother of my spirit.” He takes first place in an essay contest on William Shakespeare’s plays and wins other honors.
1916: Bowing to his father’s wishes, Wolfe enters the University of North Carolina in. Chapel Hill. He would have preferred to attend either Princeton University or the University of Virginia.
1917: Wolfe has a summer romance with one of his mother’s boarders, Clara Paul. In Wolfe’s autobiographical first novel, Look Homeward, Angel (1929), the character based on Clara is named Laura James.
1918: Wolfe becomes more active in campus life at the University of North Carolina after realizing that his father will not agree to his transfer to another university. He begins his association with a literary magazine, the student newspaper (later serving as editor), and the Carolina Playmakers, a student theatrical group. A thesis he completes for a class taught by Horace Williams wins the Worth Prize in Philosophy. Wolfe finds a summer job at Langley Field in Virginia. As a student in Frederick H. Koch’s folk-drama class, he writes and plays the lead role in The Return of Buck Gavin, which is published in 1924 in Carolina Folk-Plays, edited by Koch. Wolfe’s favorite sibling, Ben, dies in October.
1919: Wolfe is now a campus leader and is involved in many activities.
1920: Finishing his studies at the University of North Carolina, Wolfe spends the summer at home in Asheville, refuses the offer of a teaching post at a private preparatory school, and goes to Harvard University, where he is admitted to George Pierce Baker’s English 47 Workshop.
1921: Wolfe’s one-act play The Mountains is presented by the 47 Work-shop.
1922: Wolfe completes all the requirements for an M.A. in English and revises The Mountains, expanding it into a three-act drama.
1923: Still intent on sharpening his skills as a playwright, Wolfe enrolls for his third year of study with Baker and has enough success with the production of Welcome to Our City to have hopes for a New York production. He rejects advice to trim the play.
1924: Hopeful that living and working in New York will enable him to establish himself as a playwright, Wolfe accepts an appointment as an English instructor at the Washington Square College of New York University. With interruptions, he is to teach there until 1930. In October he makes the first of seven trips to Europe.
1925: On the return voyage, Wolfe meets Aline Bernstein, a successful stage designer who is married and nineteen years his senior. They begin an affair that endures until 1930.
1926: While touring England with Bernstein, Wolfe begins an autobio-graphical novel, first calling it “The Building of a Wall” and later “O Lost.”
1927: Wolfe embarks on his third trip to Europe, traveling with Bernstein to Austria, Czechoslovakia, Germany, France, and Switzerland.
1928: After completing the manuscript of “O Lost,” Wolfe makes his fourth trip to Europe and is injured in a beer-hall brawl in Munich. In a letter dated 22 October, he receives word that Maxwell Perkins, an editor at Charles Scribner’s Sons, wants to discuss his novel with him.
1929: Insisting on cuts, Perkins accepts Wolfe’s novel but requests a new title. The title Wolfe finally chooses is Look Homeward, Angel, taken from a line in John Milton’s elegiac poem “Lycidas” (1638). On Perkins’s recommendation, Wolfe revises the nineteenth chapter and publishes it as “An Angel on the Porch” in Scribner’s Magazine, the first sale of any of his writings. Look Homeward, Angel is published on 18 October and creates an uproar in Asheville and the rest of North Carolina. Elsewhere, it is generally praised as a promising first novel. Wolfe applies for a Guggenheim Fellowship.
1930: Wolfe is awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship and returns to Europe for the fifth time. Sinclair Lewis praises Look Homeward, Angel in his acceptance speech for the Nobel Prize in literature. In Paris, Wolfe meets F. Scott Fitzgerald. Wolfe attempts to outline a second novel. He breaks off his relationship with Bernstein.
1931: Wolfe meets Lewis in England. Their time together furnishes material for book 5 of Wolfe’s posthumously published novel You Can’t GoHome Again (1940), in which Lewis is given the name Lloyd McHarg. Wolfe settles in Brooklyn following his return from Europe and continues work on a second novel.
1932: Wolfe’s novellas “A Portrait of Bascom Hawke” and “The Web of Earth” are published in Scribner’s Magazine. “A Portrait of Bascom Hawke” ties for first place in a contest sponsored by the magazine. After announcing a new Wolfe novel, to be titled “K-19,” for fall publication, Perkins persuades Wolfe that the work is not a worthy successor to Look Homeward, Angel. Wolfe continues to search for a way to complete a second novel. He visits his father’s Pennsylvania birth-place in October.
1933: Sensing Wolfe’s frustration over what materials should be developed for a second novel, Perkins suggests that Wolfe resume the story of Eugene Gant, the protagonist of Look Homeward, Angel. Wolfe begins to draw old material together and to add fresh material. The short story “No Door” is published in Scribner’s Magazine. The working title for the continuation of Eugene’s story becomes “The October Fair.” Wolfe begins working with Perkins in December on a completed draft.
1934: Cutting, adding, editing, and revising the manuscript of the new novel carry over into the new year. Wolfe frets that the work, now to be called “Of Time and the River,” is not yet an artistic whole. Perkins hopes for publication in the fall, but Wolfe is not ready for the book to go to the printer. He attends the World’s Fair in Chicago.
1935: Instead of writing by hand, Wolfe tries dictating his material, a move that makes him more efficient. He departs for his sixth trip to Europe before the publication of Of Time and the River. Perkins sends word that the novel has received generally good reviews, news that cheers Wolfe greatly. In May and June, Wolfe spends six of the happiest weeks of his life in Germany, where he and his work are enthusiastically welcomed. He returns from Europe on 4 July and settles again in Manhattan. He accepts an invitation to participate at the University of Colorado Writers’ Conference. Continuing his westward journey, Wolfe goes on to California before returning to New York. A collection of his stories and sketches, From Death to Morning, is published on 14 November. Through the help and efforts of his agent, Elizabeth Nowell, Wolfe publishes fifteen short stories during the year. Seeking a way to create a work treating life in nighttime America, Wolfe first mentions his idea for a book that he later refers to as “The Hound of Darkness.”
1936: In April, Wolfe disagrees with Perkins about the percentage of royalties (10 percent) that Scribners wants to allow him on The Story of a Novel, an expansion of his speech at the writers’ conference in Boulder, Colorado. This disagreement marks the beginning of his split with Scribners. Reviewing The Story of a Novel for the 25 April issue of the Saturday Review of Literature, Bernard De Voto blasts Wolfe in a piece titled “Genius Is Not Enough.” Wolfe begins in July to draft letters to other publishing firms, indicating that he is on the lookout for a new publisher. He sails for Europe (his seventh trip) in July, intending to spend most of his time in Germany, where his work is selling well. He becomes aware of Adolf Hitler’s oppressive, inhu-mane, and tyrannical practices and, upon leaving Germany, writes “I Have a Thing to Tell You.” Alleging that Wolfe libeled them in “No Door,” one of the stories collected in From Death to Morning, the Dorman family of Brooklyn files a suit in November. As a party to the suit, Scribners recommends settling out of court, a move Wolfe stoutly opposes. This disagreement with the firm is a major factor in his decision to seek another publisher. Another factor in Wolfe’s decision to leave Scribners is Perkins’s vow to retire from the firm if Wolfe insists on using satiric material on a publishing house—material based, in part, on what Wolfe has heard from Perkins about staff members at Scribners.
1937: Wolfe celebrates New Year in New Orleans, where he is lionized. Here he meets William Wisdom, who later acquires Wolfe’s papers and manuscripts from the Wolfe estate and donates them to the Houghton Library at Harvard. Wolfe posts a letter to Perkins explaining his reasons for breaking with Scribners. Perkins responds in letters dated 13, 14, and 16 January. Wolfe visits friends in Chapel Hill. In February he informs his brother Fred that he intends to come to Asheville to seek a place where he can write in peace. Wolfe learns in March that something is wrong with his lungs, but he dismisses his illness. In April he leaves New York for Asheville, approaching it by way of Yancey County, where a kinsman relates Civil War experiences and Wolfe witnesses a shooting scrape. He spends a week in Asheville enjoying his role as a literary celebrity. Before returning to New York, he rents a remote cabin in nearby Oteen, to which he comes in July to begin writing. He manages to do some work but is interrupted frequently. Not having found the peace he desired, he returns to New York. Wolfe wrestles with his decision to find a new publisher, exploring in October the possibility of signing with Houghton Mifflin. Later, he accepts the offer of Harper and Brothers and begins discussing publishing plans with his new editor, Edward Aswell.
1938: In February a New Jersey judge decides in Wolfe’s favor in a case involving a dispute with Muredach Dooher, who was trying to sell some of Wolfe’s manuscripts. That same month, Bernstein’s fictionalized account of her affair with Wolfe is published as The Journey Down. Wolfe prepares a synopsis for Aswell detailing his plans for a novel presenting “one man’s discovery of life and the world” and explains that the central character will be simian-like in appearance. At this stage, he suggests calling the whole book “You Can’t Go Home Again.” He works steadily throughout the winter and into early spring on his new book, stopping in May to give a talk at Purdue University. Before leaving New York, he places materials for his new novel in Aswell’s hands. Following his speech at Purdue, Wolfe briefly visits friends in Denver and reaches Portland, Oregon, in June. There he meets Edward Miller, a journalist, and Ray Conway, an employee of the Oregon Automobile Association. Together the three men set out to show that the major western national parks can be toured in just two weeks. Wolfe’s journal of the trip is posthumously published in 1951 as A Western Journal: A Daily Log of the Great Parks Trip. He reaches Seattle on 2 July. He visits Victoria, British Columbia. Back in Seattle, Wolfe becomes gravely ill. He is transferred to Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore; exploratory surgery reveals what the doctor calls “myriads of tubercles” in Wolfe’s brain. He dies on 15 September. His remains are interred in Asheville’s Riverside Cemetery.