The American icon of letters Tom Wolfe is working on a new book, about the roiling diversity of modern-day Miami. And it is thrilling the first time you’re in the same room with an American icon of letters — there they stand, messaging iconicity. That’s how we felt last night as we sidled up directly behind the blinding (well, really a sort of subdued eggshell) white suit of Mr. Wolfe at a party last night hosted by the Accompanied Literary Society to celebrate the latest issue of Lapham’s Quarterly, the quirky ‘zine started by longtime Harper’s editor Lewis Lapham. LQ compiles the writings of the dead great ones around a certain theme per issue. This new issue is about money. So some moneyed men like Richard Dreyfuss, Harvey Weinstein, Graydon Carter, and La Lupe read passages from it. It was a sort of dizzying pastiche of wealth and prestige, which left us a little giddy and confused. Kind of like our subsequent conversation with Wolfe himself, which went exactly like this:
New York: Hi. I’m Tim from New York magazine.
Tom Wolfe: Hello, Tim. You don’t do podcasts, do you?
[Brief pause for understandable disorientation.]
New York: No, but I do video stories. Why do you ask?
Tom Wolfe: Because I still don’t know what they are. And I’ve never known anyone that ever watched one.
New York: You don’t know what podcasts are?
Tom Wolfe: I have a vague idea. As far as I can tell, nobody ever watches them.
New York: They’re just audio though.
Tom Wolfe: They check out, but they don’t check in.
New York: [Mental double take.] Are you pulling my leg? You really don’t know what a podcast is?
Tom Wolfe: To be honest, I don’t know what it is. I know that you sit in front of a microphone and have a conversation, and some way or another, it comes out on a screen or…
[Pause for a brief explanation of the nature of podcasts and how, for example, one could download an interview with him and listen to it on an iPod or in while driving.]
Tom Wolfe: Oh, see, that part I didn’t know.
New York: Do you think now that you know you’ll try it out?
Tom Wolfe: No. I never wear earphones in the car.
Now that conversation should be in Lapham’s Quarterly. —Tim Murphy