Authors: Truman Capote

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

Last reviewed: June 2017

American novelist, short-story writer, screenwriter, and essayist

September 30, 1924

New Orleans, Louisiana

August 25, 1984

Los Angeles, California

Biography

For almost forty years, Truman Capote was in the news. He first attracted public interest as a precocious wunderkind of fiction. Later he became known not only for his short stories and novels but also for his nonfiction. His literary reputation was almost equaled by his reputation as a jet-setter. He was a drawing card for interview shows and newspaper features. Any story or article of his, even in his declining years, became a featured work in popular magazines.

Born in New Orleans, September 30, 1924, to Lillie Mae Faulk (later changed to Nina) and Arch Persons, he was named Truman Streckfus Persons. After his parents’ divorce and his mother’s remarriage, Truman took the surname of his adoptive stepfather and became known only as Truman Capote. He had an unhappy and lonely childhood, which became the subject of much of his work. His sense of abandonment and betrayal remained with him throughout his life.

Truman Capote

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(Library of Congress)

Capote achieved success in his twenties with the publication of Other Voices, Other Rooms and A Tree of Night, and Other Stories, although some critics objected to or disliked the dark, gothic, psychological strain of the fiction. Some were repelled by the homosexual themes, but other critics praised the style and innovativeness of the work. Two later works of fiction found more favor. Although The Grass Harp and A Christmas Memory are tender, poetic, and often-humorous stories, the theme of the lost child is central in these pieces as well. A favorite story of most Capote readers is Breakfast at Tiffany’s, with its unforgettable heroine, Holly Golightly, who dreamed of but failed to find a life of security.

Capote’s nonfiction pieces, later published as books, have an enduring quality. Various essays, portraits, and commentaries may be found in Capote collections. The best of these writings depicts the talented but also the narcissistic, sometimes shallow, often-lonely men and women whom the public and the media transform into twentieth-century gods. Capote captures, in his imagistic prose, the materialistic, frenetic world of wealth and fame about which he was ambivalent: He was critical of it but eager to be part of it.

The high point of Capote’s career was reached in 1966 with the Edgar Award–winning In Cold Blood, a new form that he called a “nonfiction novel,” part journalism, part creative story. Yet after the publication of that work, it became clear that the man was at odds with the artist. Capote published a series of short stories that were to be part of a projected novel called Answered Prayers. It is the story of the sexual peccadilloes of socialites, artists, dancers, editors, photographers, and film celebrities. When he published several chapters in Esquire magazine, New York high society ostracized him, feeling betrayed by his thinly disguised characterizations. Soon afterward, Capote became an isolated, defensive man. At the time of his death, in 1984, that work was incomplete, but it was published posthumously in 1986 as Answered Prayers: The Unfinished Novel. Capote’s last published work in his lifetime, Music for Chameleons, demonstrates that Capote still had, on occasion, a painter’s eye and a musician’s ear.

Interest in Capote’s work continued in the early twenty-first century, as evidenced by the publication of volumes of his correspondence, essays, and early short fiction. In 2005, a previously unpublished early novel, Summer Crossing, was released to mixed critical reviews; a story about a young woman's romantic misadventures in postwar New York, it was compared somewhat less favorably to Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Capote also became the subject of an award-winning biopic that same year.

Author Works Long Fiction: Other Voices, Other Rooms, 1948 The Grass Harp, 1951 A Christmas Memory, 1956 (serial) In Cold Blood, 1966 The Thanksgiving Visitor, 1967 (serial) Answered Prayers: The Unfinished Novel, 1986 Summer Crossing, 2005 Short Fiction: A Tree of Night, and Other Stories, 1949 Breakfast at Tiffany’s: A Short Novel, and Three Stories, 1958 One Christmas, 1983 I Remember Grandpa: A Story, 1986 The Early Stories of Truman Capote, 2015 Drama: The Grass Harp: A Play, pr., pb. 1952 (adaptation of his novel) House of Flowers, pr. 1954 (with Harold Arlen) Screenplays: Beat the Devil, 1954 (with John Huston) The Innocents, 1961 Nonfiction: Local Color, 1950 The Muses Are Heard, 1956 Observations, 1959 (with Richard Avedon) The Dogs Bark: Public People and Private Places, 1973 Too Brief a Treat: The Letters of Truman Capote, 2004 (Gerald Clarke, editor) Portraits and Observations: The Essays of Truman Capote, 2007 Brooklyn: A Personal Memoir, 2015 Miscellaneous: Selected Writings, 1963 Trilogy: An Experiment in Multimedia, 1969 (with Eleanor Perry and Frank Perry) Music for Chameleons, 1980 A Capote Reader, 1987 Bibliography Bloom, Harold, ed. Truman Capote. Philadelphia: Chelsea House, 2003. Collection of critical essays discusses Capote’s most important works. Includes an informative editor’s introduction, a brief biography, and a chronology. Brinnin, John Malcolm. Truman Capote: Dear Heart, Old Buddy. Rev. ed. New York: Delacorte Press, 1986. Chronicles Capote’s life from before the success of In Cold Blood to his ruin from alcoholism and drugs. Most useful is the insight into the literary circles in which Capote moved. Includes an index. Clarke, Gerald. Capote: A Biography. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1988. Arguably the definitive biographical work on Capote, this lengthy text covers all the ups and downs of his career. Contains copious references and an index. Dunphy, Jack.“Dear Genius”: A Memoir of My Life with Truman Capote. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1989. Written by Capote’s friend and close companion of more than thirty years and a novelist in his own right. Details the disintegration of Capote’s life as a result of drugs and alcohol. Includes index. Garson, Helen S. Truman Capote: A Study of the Short Fiction. New York: Twayne, 1992. Divided into three sections: a critical analysis of the short fiction, an exploration of Capote’s biography and his “inventing a self,” and a selection of essays by Capote’s most important critics. Also includes a chronology and bibliography. Grobel, Lawrence. Conversations with Capote. 1985. Reprint. New York: Da Capo Press, 2000. Biographical work draws on in-depth interviews with Capote. Topics covered include events of the author’s childhood and his eventual fall from society’s good graces. Chapter 4, “Writing,” discusses Capote’s writing career and the authors he believed had the greatest influence on him. Hardwick, Elizabeth. “Tru Confessions.” The New York Review of Books 45 (January 15, 1998): 4-5. Discusses George Plimpton’s recording the remarks of those who came into contact with Capote’s journey to literary fame; notes that Plimpton arranges these voices to produce the effect of the unrehearsed, companionable exchange at a cocktail party; argues that the method and result suit their subject, given that Capote, when not writing, was partying, forever receiving and producing banter. Inge, M. Thomas, ed. Truman Capote: Conversations. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1987. Collection of interviews with Capote includes the work of interviewers ranging from Gloria Steinem to George Plimpton to Capote himself, in a section called “Self-Portrait.” Long, Robert Emmet. Truman Capote, Enfant Terrible. New York: Continuum, 2008. Brief work combines biographical information and literary criticism. Examines Capote’s novels, screenplays, and nonfiction, and discusses how the southern gothic elements of his early work relate to his later work. Plimpton, George. Truman Capote: In Which Various Friends, Enemies, Acquaintances, and Detractors Recall His Turbulent Career. New York: Doubleday, 1997. Oral biography based on interviews provides dramatic, primary information, but readers would do well to check this information against more reliable biographies, such as that by Gerald Clarke. Includes a chronology of Capote’s life. Rudisill, Marie, with James C. Simmons. The Southern Haunting of Truman Capote. Nashville, Tenn.: Cumberland House, 2000. Brief volume by Capote’s aunt provides some insight into the events in the author’s life that inspired the origins of four of his early works: A Christmas Memory, The Grass Harp, “Children on Their Birthdays,” and Other Voices, Other Rooms. Windham, Donald. Lost Friendships: A Memoir of Truman Capote, Tennessee Williams, and Others. New York: William Morrow, 1987. A friend of the major literary lights of the 1950’s and 1960’s, as well as a novelist himself, Windham dedicates the first half of Lost Friendships to his relationship with Capote and its subsequent decline.

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