Thomas Clayton Wolfe was born at the family home, 92 Woodfin Street, in Asheville, North Carolina on October 3rd, 1900.
Aged 15, Wolfe began his studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC) where he enrolled in a playwriting course. Wolfe graduated in 1920 and enrolled at the Graduate School for Arts and Sciences at Harvard. Here he studied playwriting under the tutelage of George Pierce Baker. In 1922 he received his master's degree from Harvard.
Wolfe now began the transition from studying to commercial playwright. He went to New York in November, 1923 trying to sell his plays to Broadway. The Theatre Guild came close to producing Welcome to Our City but in the end declined. Wolfe now believed his style of writing was more suited to fiction. Grasping the opportunity this afforded him he sailed to England in October 1924 to write and from there on to France, Italy and Switzerland.
In 1926 Wolfe began writing a novel, O Lost. This would eventually become Look Homeward, Angel. It was based on his years in Asheville. The original manuscript of O Lost was over 1100 pages. Maxwell Perkins, one of the great book editors of the age, worked at his publishers, Scribner’s and he began to focus the book, cutting and re-shaping it to center it on the character of Eugene.
The novel was published in 1929. It was a success.
Wolfe now committed the next 4 years to writing a multi-volume epic entitled The October Fair. At Scribner’s Perkins once more decided to edit it down to a single volume; Of Time and the River. It was even more successful than his first. It was hailed as the literary event of 1935 and cemented his reputation as one of America’s foremost novelists.
In 1938, after submitting his new opus, which ran to an incredible one million words, to his new editor, Edward Aswell, Wolfe left to tour the West, a part of the country he had never before visited. Whilst travelling Wolfe became ill with pneumonia and spent three weeks in a Seattle hospital. Complications arose. The prognosis was serious. He was diagnosed with miliary tuberculosis of the brain.
On September 6th, he was sent to Baltimore's Johns Hopkins Hospital for treatment. The ensuing operation revealed that the disease had overrun the entire right side of his brain.
Thomas Clayton Wolfe never regained consciousness and died shortly before his 38th birthday on September 15th, 1938.