Monday, April 29, 2013

Thomas Wolfe's Beautiful Deathbed Letter to Maxwell Perkins

This has to be one of the most moving letters ever written, the letter Thomas Wolfe wrote to Maxwell Perkins on his deathbed, by hand, against doctor’s orders, after Wolfe had had a falling out with Perkins and Scribners and had moved to another publisher, though Perkins remained loyal to Wolfe and was the literary executor of his estate:

August 12, 1938

Dear Max:

I’m sneaking this against orders—but “I’ve got a hunch”—and I wanted to write these words to you.

I’ve made a long voyage and been to a strange country, and I’ve seen the dark man very close; and I don’t think I was too much afraid of him, but so much of mortality still clings to me—I wanted most desperately to live and still do, and I thought about you all 1000 times, and wanted to see you all again, and there was the impossible anguish and regret of all the work I had not done, of all the work I had to do—and I know now I’m just a grain of dust, and I feel as if a great window has been opened on life I did not know about before—and if I come through this, I hope to God I am a better man, and in some strange way I can’t explain I know I am a deeper and a wiser one—If I get on my feet and get out of here, it will be months before I head back, but if I get on my feet, I’ll come back.

—Whatever happens—I had this “hunch” and wanted to write you and tell you, no matter what happens or has happened, I shall always think of you and feel about you the way it was that 4th of July day 3 yrs. ago when you met me at the boat, and we went out on the cafĂ© on the river and had a drink and later went on top of the tall building and all the strangeness and the glory and the power of life and of the city was below—

Yours always,

(from Editor to Author: The Letters of Maxwell E. Perkins selected and edited by John Hall Wheelock)


DC-area author Leslie Pietrzyk explores the creative process and all things literary.