Thomas Wolfe remembered
“Oh lost, and by the wind grieved, ghost, come back again.”
Remember that line from Thomas Wolfe’s “Look Homeward Angel”?
Most readers of my generation remember the line, the book, and the author. Many of us credit Wolfe with helping us get through the transformation from child to adult and opening the door to an appreciation of fine writing.
So, when on a recent perfect day as the sun beat down through a mild refreshing chill, I passed by the memorial to Wolfe on the UNC-Chapel Hill campus. I stopped and read aloud those “Oh lost” words as they appear on the wings of the angel sculpture that gives tribute to the university’s most famous literary alumnus.
THOMAS WOLFE /
UNC, Class of 1920
Remembering speechlessly we
seek the great forgotten language,
the lost lane-end into heaven, a
stone, a leaf, an unfound door.
“Look Homeward, Angel”
Wolfe’s words still stir me, especially in the simple setting of the memorial, which UNC historian Fitz Brundage says is one of the “most dense commemorative landscapes in the state.”
Whether or not you are a Wolfe fan, a visit to this small campus memorial should be on your bucket list.
Today, almost 100 years after Wolfe entered the university, do others remember him? Do his words still inspire new writers to tell open their mental guts and spill out their words and stories?
The authors I have been reading recently are witnesses to Wolfe’s continuing influence. All of them found a way to make Wolfe connections to their stories.
Lee Smith’s “Guest on Earth” is set in Asheville, so it is easy for her to have her main characters visit Wolfe’s “mother’s boardinghouse downtown.”
Wiley Cash used Wolfe’s words for the title for his debut novel, “A Land More Kind than Home” from Wolfe’s “You Can’t Go Home Again.”
“Something has spoken to me in the night ... and told me that I shall die, I know not where. Saying: "[Death is] to lose the earth you know for greater knowing; to lose the life you have, for greater life; to leave the friends you loved, for greater loving; to find a land more kind than home, more large than earth.”
Pat Conroy’s new memoir, “The Death of Santini,” renews his longstanding tribute to Wolfe’s influence on his writing.
“Return Trip,” a story in Elizabeth Spencer’s upcoming book “Starting Over,” is marked by Wolfe and her characters visit to the fire-damaged memorial that is in Wolfe’s mother’s boarding house.
In Terry Roberts’ award-winning first novel, “A Short Time to Stay Here,” he describes an Asheville boarding house “with its pinched, puritanical proprietor, a woman named Wolfe.”
Ron Rash, in “The Cove,” introduces “an old man, tall and gaunt, stooped through the open doorway, his hands and leather apron smudged with white dust. ‘W.O. Wolfe, at your service,’ the stonecutter said.”
Finally, “What I Came to Tell You” by Tommy Hays, is about Grover, a boy named after a Wolfe character by his father who is the director of The Thomas Wolfe house in Asheville.
Not by these important witnesses.
D.G. Martin hosts “North Carolina Bookwatch,” which airs Sundays at noon and Thursdays at 5 p.m. on UNC-TV. For more information or to view prior programs visit the webpage at www.unctv.org/ncbookwatch.