On September 15, 1938, Thomas Wolfe, author of the novels Look Homeward, Angel and Of Time and the River, died unexpectedly at the age of thirty-seven. For the literary world, the death of the talented and ambitious young writer was a profound and tragic loss. As the New York Times observed in an unsigned article the next day
His was one of the most confident young voices in contemporary American literature, a vibrant, full-toned voice which it is hard to believe could be so suddenly stilled. The stamp of genius was upon him, though it was an undisciplined and unpredictable genius. . . . There was within him an unspent energy, an untiring force, an unappeasable hunger for life and for expression which might have carried him to the heights and might equally have torn him down. . . .
The death last week of Thomas Clayton Wolfe shocked critics with the realization that, of all American novelists of his generation, he was the one from whom most had been expected. He had almost finished his third novel when he contracted pneumonia in Seattle two months ago and was apparently recovering when an infection spread to his kidneys and heart. Rushed to Johns Hopkins hospital in Baltimore, he was operated on twice during the week, [and] died of an acute cerebral infection. . . .
VQR had published one of Wolfe’s earliest stories and the passing of this vital literary figure prompted VQR to solicit another. Nine months after Wolfe’s death, the Summer 1939 issue of VQR contained the last words Wolfe penned, an excerpt from a journal called “A Western Journey,” written just weeks before he died.