Last reviewed: June 2017
American novelist, short-story writer, screenwriter, and essayist
September 30, 1924
New Orleans, Louisiana
August 25, 1984
Los Angeles, California
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
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.