1930 all over again

Thomas Wolfe as a significant tourist draw is not so remote a possibility, and has precedent in the Asheville of the 1930s.

According to Christian Edwards of the Thomas Wolfe Memorial, Look Homeward, Angel attracted many visitors eager to see for themselves the “cool sweet magic of starred mountain night, the huge attentiveness of dark, the slope, the street, the trees, the living silence of the houses waiting,” as Wolfe wrote of the pseudonymous Altamont.

“He really helped bring Asheville out of the depths of the Great Depression,” Edwards says. “It was one of those turning points in Asheville history where, through his writing and exposure of the community and the area at large, he was able to really pique interest for visitors who wanted to come … see this town, or explore the Old Kentucky Home (which he called Dixieland). He really put Asheville on the literary map — or on the artists map — of the U.S.”

Even if Eugene Gant, the Look Homeward narrator, “was ashamed of Dixieland [and] hated the indecency of his life, the loss of dignity and seclusion, the surrender of the tumultuous rabble of the four walls,” visitors found charm in the story’s wraparound porches and bustling anterooms.

Could the film Genius reinvigorate interest in Wolfe’s work and the local details from which it drew? “We are ecstatic that this [film] is happening; Wolfe was such an influential author, not only for American literature, but for the city of Asheville,” says Edwards. “Not only are we hoping that it will … increase visitation at the Thomas Wolfe Memorial, but also if we can get more visitors to Asheville and the greater community, it’s a win-win for everyone.”

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