George Pryde, a retired ad man who lives in Lexington, introduced my March 10 talk on Tom Wolfe to the local branch of the English Speaking Union. I told him to leave in the flattering error of saying Wolfe and I formed a lasting “friendship,” because correcting that was my lead anecdote. Actually, Wolfe gave me several clever run-arounds when I tried to get his permission to see his W&L transcripts (unlike Trump, he had nothing to hide about his academic record; he was on the dean’s list every year, turns out), and then he declined to write the intro to my book The Southern Press. Unabashed by “pryde,” I post George’s intro here. – DC
Our program topic today is the late Tom Wolfe and the “New Journalism” with which he is so closely associated.
No one is better qualified to speak about Tom Wolfe than Doug Cumming. In many ways their lives and careers have followed parallel and often intersecting paths.
Like his Richmond-born subject, Doug too is a Southern lad, a 6th generation Georgian, born in Augusta and raised in Atlanta.
Their educational backgrounds were similar – Wolfe’s undergraduate degree was in English, at Washington and Lee. Doug’s B.A. was in Literature, at Bennington College in Vermont.
Both went on to advanced degrees in American Studies at Ivy League schools – Tom Wolfe at Yale, Doug at Brown. Doug also earned a Ph.D. In Mass Communication, at UNC-Chapel Hill.
After college both men spent several years as newspaper and magazine journalists.
Their lives intersected at W&L when Tom Wolfe made one of his frequent returns to his alma mater, where Doug had joined the Journalism Department in 2003. There the two men found they had shared interests and formed a friendship that lasted until Wolfe’s death last May.
Of course, these two men had their differences. Doug Cumming as far as I know has never appeared in white suits and spats. And Tom Wolfe, to the best of my knowledge, was not an accomplished saxophonist, equally comfortable with jazz and bluegrass traditions. By the way, you can hear Doug play most Wednesday mornings 8 to 10 am with the jam session at the undercroft of Grace Episcopal Church.
Dr. Cumming is Associate Professor of Journalism and Mass Communications at W&L. He currently teaches reporting, literary journalism and media history.
We are indeed fortunate to have Doug speak to us today, and to have his charming wife Libby join us.
So please welcome Doug Cumming!