Brendan M. Wolfe is managing editor of Encyclopedia Virginia and the proprietor of The Lost Nation. A native of Davenport, Iowa, he attended the University of Iowa (twice) before helping to edit two failed newspapers and one that was so successful Wolfe fled the country to the Republic of Korea, where some experts speculated that nuclear war was imminent. He drank soju and taught English. After three more years in Iowa City, Wolfe moved to Virginia in 2007, arriving on the 231st anniversary of the formal signing of the Declaration of Independence. He began work at Encyclopedia Virginia in 2008 and was promoted to managing editor in 2010. He is married with a daughter.
Brendan Martin Wolfe was born on August 31, 1971, at Mercy Hospital (later Genesis West) in Davenport, Iowa. He is the son of Thomas A. Wolfe (1940–2012), a farm-raised middle-school history teacher who had a habit of referring to his son—in a faux Irish brogue—by his middle name, Maaaartin; and Frances S. Cupp Wolfe (1942– ), the wry daughter of a trucking-company owner, a devoted fan of Iowa Hawkeyes basketball, and a hater of all cats everywhere. Wolfe has two sisters: Lieutenant Colonel (Res.) Bridget C. Wolfe (1967– ) and Sara E. Wolfe Womble (1973– ). He also has a godson who would prefer to downplay the association.
Wolfe matriculated at the University of Iowa in August 1990, excelling at first and then, under the influence of alcohol and a girl who would prefer to downplay the association, excelling less. He was graduated in May 1994 with a BA in English. After a year spent managing a small bar, he was admitted to the Program in Nonfiction Writing at the University of Iowa. This occurred despite Wolfe having been informed by the program director that his chances of admission were so low he need not bother applying. It then took the aspiring writer four and a half years to finish the two-year program. He received his MFA in December 1999. Soon after, Wolfe, hoping to spend a year abroad, applied for a Fulbright Scholar Award. In his interview a professor of English asked, “If it took you four and a half years to get your MFA, why should we believe you can accomplish anything in one?” Wolfe did not receive the award.
Wolfe began his professional career as a writer and editor while still in graduate school, working for Icon, a small independent weekly newspaper in Iowa City. He served as music editor, managing editor, and, from 1999 until 2000, editor. The newspaper folded a few months later. In Bangor, Maine, Wolfe worked as associate editor, then deputy editor of the statewide weekly newspaper Maine Times until 2002, when the thirty-four-year-old publication folded. In Concord, New Hampshire, Wolfe helped edit the Concord Monitor. The daily newspaper was both successful and stable, and Wolfe left after less than a year, moving to South Korea, which was then under a possible nuclear threat from its neighbor to the north, a recently named member of the “Axis of Evil.”
After a year spent marinating in kimchi juice and drinking soju, a clear alcohol mysteriously favored by Koreans, and also teaching children English, Wolfe returned to the United States. On August 6, 2004, in Stockton Springs, Maine, he married a woman who now insists on downplaying the association. The couple produced no children and divorced in 2007. That same year Wolfe moved to Virginia, arriving in Charlottesville on July 4. On August 15, 2008, in front of an equestrian statue of Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson, he married Mary Wharton “Molly” Minturn (1979– ), a native of Manchester-by-the-Sea, Massachusetts, a graduate of the University of Virginia and the University of Iowa, and a poet of the first order. Her great-great-great grandfather, Robert Bowne Minturn, owned some of the packet ships that brought Wolfe’s relatives from Ireland in the 1840s;* her great-great uncle, Robert Gould Shaw, led the 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment during the American Civil War (1861–1865).
In January 2008, Wolfe began work at Encyclopedia Virginia, an online project of the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities. He was associate editor and then, from 2010, managing editor. Wolfe wrote a book about the early jazz musician Bix Beiderbecke, also a native of Davenport, Iowa, but the contract was canceled when the publishing house forgot why it had approved the project in the first place. Essays on Wolfe’s family and father were published in the Colorado Review (Summer 2009) and The Morning News (May 2013). In addition to writing a novel about Don Luís de Velasco, he hopes to pen a memoir about his father.
Wolfe has one daughter, born in 2009, who would prefer …
* Actually, this is just almost true.
image: Brendan Wolfe in January 1974