From the sidewalk across from 40 Verandah Place, they could look past the bars on his window, which had no shades or curtains, and see him scribbling on loose typing paper or in a massive bookkeeping ledger—not sitting at a table but standing up, using the top of an old Frigidaire as a desk.  If this posture made any sense, it was only because the man was enormous, about six feet six, “or maybe a little more” in his estimation, and no dieter either. While he concentrated on his work, his big, sulky lower lip puffed out and his eyes widened. If one of his stubby pencils wore down, he chucked it to the side and picked another one out of a coffee can. When he finished with a page—sometimes only twenty sprawling words would fit—he would push it to the floor with a meaty hand and go on. In the afternoons a young typist would come and pick the sheets off the floor, then try to put them in order and make some sense of the handwriting, which generally consisted of a first and last letter for each word, with a wavy line between the two (why waste time with the other letters?). All the while the writing continued, so that the typist would have to keep shuttling between the typewriter and the first floor around the writer’s feet.

The apartment cost sixty-five dollars a month including utilities and it contained barely more than a few busted-up pieces of furniture and haphazard piles of papers and books, with coffee cups and ashtrays dotting the landscape. It was a federally declared intellectual disaster area.

Looking at this giant who worked deep into the night, who paid no attention to personal comfort or social decorum, who drank sludgy coffee and lit cigarettes off the burning butt of the one before, those people on the sidewalk must have thought they were beholding the very image of the writer, the artist.

If they did, they were right. Thomas Wolfe fit all the stereotypes just about to a tee.

– excerpted from the chapter, A Long Way From New York: Thomas Wolfe, in Literary Brooklyn

thomas-wolfeThomas Wolfe
1900 – 1938

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