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frontporch I finally found the unfound door to Thomas Wolfe. It was sitting in the card catalogue all the time, while I had been groping blindly on the Internet. Is there a lesson here? Perhaps I should explain. I'm talking about Thomas Wolfe, the author oíLook Homeward, Angel, not the contemporary Tom Wolfe, who recendy skewered Atlanta with his own novel, A Man in Full. Our Thomas Wolfe is a big presence in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, the town where I work and where Southern Cultures originates. The rambling, wildly eloquent young writer enrolled here at the University of North Carolina in 1916 and began to practice his talents. Look Homeward , Angel, Wolfe's first novel, appeared in 1929 and is heavily autobiographical, above: Women ofKappa Delta singing to rushees outside the sorority house at Ole Miss, 1996. Reprinted bypermission ofthe Memphis Commercial Appeal. like most of his fiction. Through a thin veil ofpseudonyms, it deals with the author 's family, his youth in Asheville, N.C., and his passage to manhood at the University . It opens with a famously portentous epigraph that begins "... a stone, a leaf, an unfound door; ofa stone, a leaf, a door." Wolfe lovers always have a good time speculating just where the door is, why the author never found it, and where it might lead. In Chapel Hill, we like to think of Look Homeward, Angel as "our" American classic. Wolfe flattered us with his portrait—as he decidedly did not do in the case of Asheville—and called the University "a charming, an unforgettable place," comparable to "a provincial outpost of great Rome." In return, Chapel Hill has been faithful to Thomas Wolfe. When I first came here, there were still people in town whom insiders could identify as characters from his works. "She was Music Myrtle," they would say of one venerable matron, and you were supposed to know she had been the model for the long-suffering pianist in Look Homeward, Angel'who played for rowdy crowds in the silent movies. In the University library, there's a special collection ofeverythingWolfe ever wrote and a little shrine to go with it. In short, if there's anywhere that Thomas Wolfe's lush and yearning language should still command respect, Chapel Hill should be the place. But as I write, it's not. Computer glitches bar the way. As we were gathering material for this issue, Pat Conroy's vivid memoir of his first encounter with Wolfe's fiction prompted me to revisit the master, and I stopped by the library for a copy of—what else?—Look Homeward, Angel. The main library has changed a lot since the days when the future novelist browsed among Defoe and Fielding and the Greeks. Among other things, it's much bigger than the old one, it's in a different building, and it's dedicated to "information technology." That means you have to use a computer to find a book, so I sidled up to an empty cubicle and tapped in my request. The screen quickly told me that the library was still full of books about Thomas Wolfe. There were biographies and criticism and TV documentaries. There were translations into Chinese, Japanese, Serbo-Croatian, and a dozen other languages. There were plays and screenplays and collected letters. But where were the novels? 1 tried looking under the title and got the same thing. There was plenty in the computer aboutout favorite son and his famous books, but no sign ofanything by him. Perplexed, I explained my problem to my good friends at the reference desk, expecting to learn that I was making some dumb mistake. Not so. My friends exchanged embarrassed grins as they turned to their own machine. "I thought they fixed that problem, didn't you?" '^eah, programming was supposed to take care of that one a while ago. Lemme check." 2 southern CULTU res, Fall 1999 : Front Porch "Wow. Look at that. They don't list anything by him at all. That's worse than I thought it was." Itwas incredible. Somehow, right here in the middle ofthe University ofNorth Carolina at Chapel Hill, the information technology experts...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1534-1488
Print ISSN
1068-8218
Pages
pp. 1-6
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-04
Open Access
No
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