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Carolina Story: Virtual Museum of University History

Thomas Wolfe

Thomas Wolfe as Buck Gavin, 1919

In 1919, the first public performances of works by Koch’s students included Thomas Wolfe’s play on North Carolina mountain life, The Return of Buck Gavin. After casting calls failed to produce a suitable actor, Wolfe played the title role himself. After graduating in 1920, Wolfe went to Harvard to study playwriting under Koch’s old professor, George Pierce Baker. Discouraged with his dramatic work, Wolfe turned to fiction in the mid-1920s and published an autobiographical novel,Look Homeward, Angel (1929), drawing from his childhood in Asheville and his years in Chapel Hill (which he renamed Pulpit Hill). His four novels became some of the most influential works of the twentieth century and are remembered for their extravagant language, long, sprawling narratives, and Whitmanesque temperament. Wolfe’s success inspired generations of Chapel Hill writers.