Three iconic literary figures of the Roaring 20s, all with a North Carolina legacy:
- Thomas Wolfe, author of “Look Homeward, Angel.”
- F. Scott Fitzgerald, author of “The Great Gatsby.”
- Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald, artist and author of “Save Me the Waltz.”
One was born and is buried here. One nearly died here. One did die here. While it’s not a story with a happy ending, their three entangled and tragic lives are a part of the area’s history.
It is a story Asheville author Bruce Johnson felt needed to be explored, understood and sometimes corrected, as the book allows readers to appreciate how their time here influenced each of their lives.
Johnson has written a biographical walking and driving guide covering the time Thomas Wolfe, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald spent in Asheville, Hendersonville, Tryon, and Lake Lure from the 1920s into the 1940s.
“As a former English teacher, I was already familiar with Thomas Wolfe and F. Scott Fitzgerald when I moved to Asheville in 1988,” Johnson said. “I was then writing books and magazine articles about the American Arts and Crafts movement and the 1913 Grove Park Inn, which had been designed and furnished in the Arts and Crafts style.”
While writing about The Grove Park Inn, Johnson began collecting stories about Scott and Zelda’s years spent in and around Asheville from 1935 until 1948.
“As I did, I began collecting stories about F. Scott Fitzgerald’s time spent in rooms 441 and 443 from 1935 until 1937, as well as his adventures in Hendersonville, Tryon, and Lake Lure. Along the way I discovered that Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald had also lived here for several years of her tragic life, and that both had a connection with Asheville’s famous son Thomas Wolfe,” he said.
Johnson discovered some unpleasant stories, as the pair had dealt with alcoholism, schizophrenia and despair that made its way into the press — making them infamous for their antics.
Johnson’s research into the Fitzgeralds also led him into the life of their friend Thomas Wolfe, who was born in Asheville in 1900 and was buried there just 38 years later.
In 1929 Wolfe completed “Look Homeward, Angel,” an autobiographical novel which skewered nearly 300 townspeople over a public fire pit. The young author showed no mercy for his mother, father, siblings, and childhood friends, not even bothering to disguise their identities. Even the deceased E.W. Grove was a target of his pent-up wrath.
For eight years Wolfe was afraid to return to Asheville, as newspaper editors and townspeople continued to lash out at him publicly. Finally, in 1937, at the same time Scott and Zelda were living here, Tom slipped back into town, discovering that while not forgiven, the townspeople were now smitten with having a literary celebrity in their midst.
All of this and more has made its way into Johnson’s new book “Tom, Scott and Zelda: Following In Their Footsteps.” It’s a concise biographical exploration of their time spent in North Carolina, designed to be used either as a guidebook or simply as a book to be enjoyed sitting at home.
Either way, it was Johnson’s intent to bring into sharper focus a chapter in the lives of these three tragic figures which previous biographers had only skimmed over.
It also highlights and explores the architectural landmarks they frequented: the historic Grove Park Inn, the Thomas Wolfe home, Asheville’s Pack Square and Riverside Cemetery, as well as Hendersonville’s famed marble angel, plus the towns of Tryon and Lake Lure, which the three iconic and tragic authors visited.
“When I couldn’t find a book that detailed where they had each stayed and what had happened to them here, I took some wise advice and wrote the book I always wanted to read,” Johnson said.
The newly-released softcover book is 172 pages long and includes 68 photographs, three timelines, and two driving maps. It is available at local bookstores and at the website BruceJohnsonBooks.com.