My biography of Wolfe was something of a surprise to everybody, perhaps including myself. I had finished several Lincoln books, about aspects of Lincoln in the Civil War, and I thought to myself, I don’t think I want to do that again, right now anyway, but what would I do? I want that to happen. We decided we’d go in vacation in North Carolina. There’s wonderful areas out there in the western mountains, and we enjoyed it immensely, and driving back from the mountains, we went through Asheville, and I thought, you know, we ought to stop there and see Thomas Wolfe’s house, which I had seen once before, but my wife never had, and so we did.
We went through that house. It was a very impressive old house. In a sense, it was huge. It was, indeed, as Wolfe’s father said, a damned old barn. It was practically empty, all these little cubicles with a light hanging down by a cord in the middle of it, a narrow flat bed, maybe one bureau and a chair. That’s all it was furnished with. People came to rent rooms there because of the mountain air, and Julie Wolfe made a living for the family by renting.
And I thought to myself, isn’t it odd that Thomas Wolfe who writes the most luxuriant prose of any American, so full of description, so full of wonderful language, should emerge from this absolutely barren background, and I told my wife, I said, “You know, somebody ought to do something about Thomas Wolfe,” and she said, oh yes, I ought to, and we drove home.