He's most closely connected to New York, but his writing about California helped define what makes it special:
"It started by accident. Wolfe was working for the New York Herald Tribune, which, along with eight other local papers, shut down for 114 days during the 1962–63 newspaper strike. He had recently written about a custom car show—phoned it in, by his own admission—but he knew there was more to the story. Temporarily without an income, he pitched a story about the custom car scene to Esquire. 'Really, I needed to make some money,' Wolfe tells me. 'You could draw a per diem from the newspaper writers’ guild, but it was a pittance. I was in bad shape,' he chuckles. Esquire bit and sent the 32-year-old on his first visit to the West—to Southern California, epicenter of the subculture.
"Wolfe saw plenty on that trip, from Santa Monica to North Hollywood to Maywood, from the gardens and suburbs of mid-’60s Southern California to its dung heaps. He saw so much that he didn’t know what to make of it all. Returning to New York in despair, he told Esquire that he couldn’t write the piece. Well, they said, we already have the art laid in, so we have to do something; type up your notes and send them over. 'Can you imagine anything more humiliating than being told, "Type up your notes, we’ll have a real writer do the piece"?' Wolfe asks. He stayed up all night writing a 49-page memo—which Esquire printed nearly verbatim."
PUBLISHED: Nov. 22, 2012
LENGTH: 19 minutes (4825 words)
If you’ve been in Park Slope recently, you can probably guess how things turned out for the Lehane house. But you may not know why. How did the Brooklyn of the Lehanes and crack houses turn into what it is today—home to celebrities like Maggie Gyllenhaal and Adrian Grenier, to Michelin-starred chefs, and to more writers per square foot than any place outside Yaddo? How did the borough become a destination for tour buses showing off some of the most desirable real estate in the city, even the country? How did the mean streets once paced by Irish and Italian dockworkers, and later scarred by muggings and shootings, become just about the coolest place on earth? The answer involves economic, class, and cultural changes that have transformed urban life all over America during the last few decades. It’s a story that contains plenty of gumption, innovation, and aspiration, but also a disturbing coda. Brooklyn now boasts a splendid population of postindustrial and creative-class winners—but in the far reaches of the borough, where nary a hipster can be found, it is also home to the economy’s many losers.
PUBLISHED: Nov. 28, 2011
LENGTH: 18 minutes (4681 words)
The body was what the decade was about, beginning with where a body was. The Russian ballerina Natalia Makarova defected from the Soviet Union to the United States in 1970. Also in 1970, the American ballerina Suzanne Farrell defected from choreographer George Balanchine and his New York City Ballet (NYCB) and joined Maurice Béjart and his Ballet of the Twentieth Century in Brussels. Four years later, in 1974, Mikhail Baryshnikov defected from the Soviet Union to Canada, then made his way to New York and the American Ballet Theatre (ABT). The same year, the young star Gelsey Kirkland defected from NYCB to ABT in order to begin a partnership with Baryshnikov.
PUBLISHED: March 14, 2011
LENGTH: 18 minutes (4660 words)
Here’s my prediction: the money, the reforms, the gleaming porcelain, the hopeful rhetoric about saving our children—all of it will have a limited impact, at best, on most city schoolchildren. Urban teachers face an intractable problem, one that we cannot spend or even teach our way out of: teen pregnancy. This year, all of my favorite girls are pregnant, four in all, future unwed mothers every one. There will be no innovation in this quarter, no race to the top. Personal moral accountability is the electrified rail that no politician wants to touch.
PUBLISHED: Feb. 3, 2011
LENGTH: 11 minutes (2823 words)
After the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 opened the door to consistent migration from South Korea, Korean greengrocers, with their neat stacks of canned goods and their “stoop line” (sidewalk) spreads of apples, oranges, and flowers, became ubiquitous in the city, particularly in blighted and dangerous neighborhoods lacking regular grocers. But more recently, these stores have been vanishing. The Korean Produce Association reports that it has 2,500 members in the New York–New Jersey area, down from 3,000 a few decades ago.
PUBLISHED: Jan. 17, 2011
LENGTH: 12 minutes (3124 words)
Now down to a besieged two, Philadelphia is a particularly good place to observe what appears to be big-city journalism’s last stand, when many of America’s metropolitan newspapers must quickly figure out how to become profitable again or face likely extinction.
PUBLISHED: Aug. 6, 2009
LENGTH: 23 minutes (5824 words)
The NYPD’s crime-fighting sparked the city’s economic revival and is essential to its future.
PUBLISHED: July 28, 2009
LENGTH: 16 minutes (4192 words)