SI: You pitched for Washington and Lee University (below). Give us a scouting report on Tom Wolfe the pitcher.
Wolfe: I went to a New York Giants tryout camp in 1952, but anybody could try out if you had a uniform. I didn't make the cut. The scout said, "You have a nice little sinker and not a bad curve. But we're just looking for one thing: A fastball that makes the catcher shudder. Once you got one of those, you come on back and we'll take another look at you." That was a pretty fair warning as to what my future was going to hold.
SI: Did your athletic career influence your writing?
Wolfe: I doubt it. But all through high school and college I was the sports editor of the newspaper. I was always conscious of the way sportswriters wrote. Sportswriters always had the best style because newspapers would not let anybody else cut loose. I used to follow an Associated Press writer named Sid Feder. I loved his leads. One involved a Thanksgiving matchup between Virginia Military Institute and Virginia Tech. The lead was, "The VMI cadets had Thanksgiving dinner yesterday, feathers and all, defeating the gobblers of Virginia Tech." To me, that was high-class.
SI: Your daughter went to Duke. Did you base the basketball team in I Am Charlotte Simmons on the Blue Devils?
Wolfe: Perhaps I got the idea of a powerful basketball game from Duke. But that's as much as I got. The personality of my coach is far removed from Mike Krzyzewski. Mike is a smooth operator. He's diplomatic. And my man is much more in the Bobby Knight mold.
SI: You spent a lot of time around college athletes while researching the book. Are they true student-athletes, or are they hired guns?
Wolfe: In big-time sports--like in the Southeastern Conference--they are hired mercenaries, let's face it. It's not necessarily true in Division III, but even there, there's a lot of bringing in ringers, if you will. It is a terrible charade to call them student-athletes.
SI: What colleges did you visit to do research for the book?
Wolfe: I wanted [the book's fictional school] to have big-time sports and a high academic standard. So I started off at Stanford because Stanford has both. Then I went to the University of Michigan and took some short trips to Harvard, Yale, Princeton and Penn. And I went to North Carolina.