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Tom Wolfe's California

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)