Although “Genius” will not be playing in on UNC's campus any time soon, the university still honors the late author’s legacy through the Thomas Wolfe Scholarship.
Created in 2001, this four-year scholarship is granted to one incoming first-year every year. It was created by Frank B. Hanes, a UNC class of 1942 graduate, author and devoted fan of Wolfe.
“He felt that, because of our strong undergraduate creative writing program, we needed a scholarship that would bring in a strong writing talent and only pay attention to talent as opposed to all the other criteria,” said Marianne Gingher, a co-director of the scholarship.
Maddie Norris, a senior and recipient of the scholarship, said the scholarship has allowed her to focus on writing instead of stressing about paying for college.
“It gave me confidence to pursue it in a way I wouldn’t have otherwise,” she said. “I think that it was a lot of validation to say that yes, you’re a good writer.”
Wolfe’s impact on UNC goes beyond the scholarship. While acting as editor-in-chief of The Daily Tar Heel, he changed the paper from a weekly to a biweekly format.
Muir said Wolfe impacted younger generations of authors during his life, and still does after his death.
“There’s no doubt that his work inspired later generations of writers,” Muir said. “Pat Conroy gave a lot of credit to the works of Thomas Wolfe affecting him as a boy and Jack Kerouac very much emulated the lyrical style Thomas had produced.”
Gingher said many writers are not only inspired by Wolfe’s writing techniques, but also by his humble upbringing.
“For many North Carolina writers today, if it hadn’t been for Thomas Wolfe — who came from a simple background in the mountains of North Carolina, and proved even a kid from the mountains with no other kind of recognition or standing could make it as a literary talent— they wouldn’t have the hope that they too can succeed in writing,” she said.
Norris said she believes creative works like Wolfe’s need to remain important in academics.
“I think creative writing specifically asks for empathy — you always have to have empathy for the people and things you’re writing about, and that’s something that is important in this day and age,” she said.