Lindsay Fulenwider is actually not a big fan of Tar Heel novelist Thomas Wolfe. But her father, John Fulenwider, a South Carolina physician, sure was.
“He would always say, ‘He’s the greatest American novelist,’” said Fulenwider, manager of the art and art history department and a 25-year Carolina employee. “But my mother liked [F. Scott] Fitzgerald.”
Her father accumulated an extensive collection of first editions, letters and other Wolfe memorabilia and donated it in the 1970s to her alma mater, St. Mary’s College in Raleigh. The collection, housed in the Fulenwider Room, spurred the creation of an annual Wolfe Fest at the college. At this gathering, the Thomas Wolfe Society was born. Her father was a founding member of the group, which still meets annually and publishes The Thomas Wolfe Review.
St. Mary’s decided to transfer her father’s collection to the Thomas Wolfe Collection at Wilson Library. Just as her father wanted to share his enthusiasm for Wolfe while he lived, Fulenwider wanted people at the University to know that it was her father who contributed so much to the collection now housed at Wolfe’s alma mater.
Robert Anthony, curator of the North Carolina Collection and director of the North Carolina Digital Heritage Center, thought the 100th anniversary of Wolfe’s earliest published work was an appropriate time to share this behind-the-scenes story about a staff member’s tie to the collection.
“We were delighted in 1990 when St. Mary’s College in Raleigh offered us the Thomas Wolfe materials that Dr. John Fulenwider gathered over many years. With approximately 2,000 letters, publications, programs and printed ephemera, this was a major addition to our Thomas Wolfe Collection and a gold mine for research on Wolfe and his place in American literature,” Anthony said.
The collection includes extensive correspondence between Wolfe and his family members, files of notable Wolfe scholars and letters exchanged with his literary agent.
One of Anthony’s favorite items is an August 1937 letter to Wolfe from best-selling novelist and short story author Sherwood Anderson, which includes the line, “Hell, Tom, you know I like you.”
Fulenwider’s own view of Wolfe is filtered through childhood memories of her father’s enthusiasm. She remembers going to Asheville every summer to visit the Thomas Wolfe House. There they met Wolfe’s brother Fred, identified as the character Luke in Look Homeward, Angel. Fred Wolfe was also a character in real life, she said, often breaking into a chorus of the fight song of Georgia Tech, his alma mater, and calling her “Little Miss Lindsay.”
“He would tell stories about them growing up, so I felt like I was getting it firsthand,” she said.
On these trips, Fulenwider’s father would also stop by the Pack Memorial Library in Asheville to chat with a librarian there who often had tips for the collector on where to find Wolfe letters and memorabilia.
Her father died where he was probably happiest, while visiting Raleigh for Wolfe Fest.
Only 22 when her father passed away, Fulenwider said she never sat down and talked to him about his extensive Wolfe collection. “You just don’t think about it while you’re living it,” she said.
Story by Susan Hudson, University Gazette