Tuesday History: Bringing the Old Kentucky Home to Black Mountain College

THE WOLFE FAMILY: From left, Effie, Frank, Julia, Thomas, Mabel, Fred and Ollie Wolfe. Photo courtesy of the Thomas Wolfe Memorial

We continue with the letters of Frank Wolfe, older brother of Thomas Wolfe. This particular batch, written in 1947, examines Frank’s unique relationship with Black Mountain College. It also touches on the challenges Frank faced in preserving his younger brother’s literary legacy. He would play a major role in the creation of The Thomas Wolfe Memorial Association, established in 1949.

All three excerpts presented below are addressed to Martha “Mollie” Carnesia Smathers Bulis, who grew up in Haywood County. The exact nature of their relationship is unknown.

Thanks to the Thomas Wolfe Memorial for its assistance.

Frank Wolfe writes:

Saturday, night [undated]

Many thanks for your fine and considerable letter, it’s only once in a new moon that you find somebody who cares in a way and understand[s] the difficult task I have and there is no end to it either. It will go on, long as I’m here, or I have no fortitude to STOP. My sister Mabel, in Washington, wrote me quite a solid letter, much to the point too. How as she expressed it, I was giving my very “Guts” to the curious public[.] How unappreciated most of them are, they sap your energy …

About 5 oclock this afternoon, my phone rang. It was Black mt. College extending an invitation [for me] to come out there last Tuesday in Sept, and give a talk to their literary classes on Tom’s “you can’t go home again.” I told them, if I felt up to it, around that date, which I believe is the 30th, I’d let them know. Last year I helped one of their girl students with a Radio script on “The Angel[.]” …

Being a good fellow doesn’t always pay. You know Christ, was a good fellow, + they nailed him to a cross, my assignment here is a tough one + I don’t let anyone kid you it isn’t.

Sept. 25, 1947

How would you like to go [to] your door, on hearing the door bell, and there behold, 42 students from Black Mt. college, all armed with pencil & pad to highlight in [t]heir respective classes in literature, “The home of the Thomas Wolfe.” Yes this is their subject & here I am slated with the task of going out there next Tuesday & delivering a talk on the life of Thomas Wolfe. All this & much more has happened. These kids range from 16 to 20, most of them.

Oct. 14, 1947

Two weeks ago I gave a talk at Black Mt. I’m scheduled within [the] next 4 weeks to appear on the Dr I.Q. Radio program. It will be a publicity stunt to create interest in Tom Wolfe Memorial. We been busy with Tim Hutsell [of] Citizen Times, feature writer, for a story we may get in this coming Sunday Oct 19th. All this takes work, time & patience then to top it all off [I] had what Dr says was Flu[.] [A]t any rate last Thursday + Friday I was good + sick. I couldn’t quit, I had to keep on. How would you feel to wake up at 3 a.m. running a high fever & not a Gods soul in this big old house but yourself & every time you lay back down, you would wake your own self up, talking in a half delirium. My life is no pleasant task, mark me on that. Probably you might say, well why do you do it. The answer is simple. My mother died suddenly & left me on this job, and I realize none of the others will “carry on,” and for this cause … I’ll see it through if it finishes me.

If at times my letters are bordering on the bitter side, then realize, the old, “war hoss” has had a hectic day. I’ve two more letters to write. … My closing suggestion to you is, to take life more materially, the spiritual end is that of the dreamer. Long fellow once said “Life is real life is earnest.” All to[o] true, Carnesia. So with love & Best
I’m as always


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About Thomas Calder
Thomas Calder received his MFA in Fiction from the University of Houston's Creative Writing Program. He has worked with several publications, including Gulf Coast and the Collagist.

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6 thoughts on “Tuesday History: Bringing the Old Kentucky Home to Black Mountain College

  1. Curious

    Could the writer explain where these letters exist? Do they belong to the Thomas Wolfe Memorial Association? Are they at the Thomas Wolfe House?

  2. Good article about this evening's Interfaith Forum at Urban Dharma.

    Who was Ollie?

    • Thomas Calder

      The following information comes courtesy of The Thomas Wolfe Memorial:

      Ollie was William Oliver Wolfe Jr.
      Born 1 Jan 1876 at Baltimore
      Died 6 Dec 1950 at Asheville
      Son of Wesley Emerson Wolfe and Mary Lutes
      Spouse – Effie Tugman married 1900 at Asheville
      Ollie was a building contractor/plasterer like his father

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