Truman Capote was born in New Orleans on the 30th September 1924. Born as "Truman Streckfus Persons" to a 16yr old beauty queen and a salesman Capote was to become one of America's most controversial authors, a repuation he gained both for his literary works and for his flamboyant life style. He will be best remembered for two of his books, "Breakfast at Tiffany's", which was based on his own experiences as a part of the social elite, and "In Cold Blood", which is considered by many to be his masterpiece.
Capote the Child
When Capote was born in 1924 his father worked as a clerk for a steamboat company. As his father could never hold down a job for any long period of time his marriage gradually disintergrated. Capote's parents got divorced when he was four. Soon after the divorce Capote was abandoned by his mother and was left to live with his elderly aunts and cousins in Monroevillie, Alabama. One of these relative with which he lived was to become immortalised as an elderly, loving spinster in several of Capote's books and plays. Capote's mother re-married, this time to a wealthy businessman and Capote moved to New York to live with them when he was about 11. Soon afterwards Capote changed his name to "Truman Capote". As a child Capote made friends with author Harper Lee who used him as the inspiration for the character "Dill" in her famous book "To Kill a Mocking Bird". Capote started writing stories as a young child, in his words "I began writing really sort of seriously when I was about eleven. I say seriously in the sense that like other kids go home and practice the violin or the piano or whatever, I used to go home from school every day and I would write for about three hours. I was obsessed by it.". At age seventeen Capote finished his formal schooling and went to work for the New Yorker Magazine.
Capote the Author
Capote's first job was as a copy boy for the New Yorker Magazine. He had been keeping a journal and had been hoping that they would publish it, but they never did. However "Mademoiselle" did publish his first story in 1945. Entitled "Miriam" it won him the O. Henry award for short stories. This story also attracted the attention of publisher Bennete Cerf who signed Capote up to publishers Random House. In 1947 Capote was profiled by Life as a promising up and coming author. In 1948 Capote's first novel was published. Achieving near instant noritety for its frank discussion of homosexuality and for the provocative picture of Capote on its back cover "Other Voices, Other Rooms" was a fitting start to his career as a novelist.
In 1949 Capote went to live in Europe to write both fiction and non-ficton novels. During the next few years he wrote "The Muses are Heard", an account of his travels with a tour of "Porgy and Bess" in the Soviet Union. "A Tree of Night" which was a compilation of his previously published short stories. He also wrote "The House of Flowers", a musical set in a bordello in the West Indies and "The Grass Harp", which was adapted to a film in 1996.
Throughout the 1950's Capote was an influential member of the gay community as well as being the "wonder boy" of the jet-set. From his literary works came his status as a social celebrity, and Capote was often seen at the best parties and restaurants. Because of this he was often accused of frivolity, accusations which he answered with the claim that he way merely researching his next book. Sadly, during this time, his mother committed suicide in 1954. In 1958 his best known work was published. "Breakfast at Tiffany's" was inspired by many of his experiences as a member of the social elite. "Breakfast at Tiffany's" was also turned into a film staring Audrey Hepburn in 1961. The success of both the book and the film assured Capote's position in the upper-crust. He, however, was not satisfied with being merely popular, Capote wished to be great also.
Capote decided to embark on a new literary project, one that he intended would revolutionise the field of journalism. In 1959 Capote started his project to write a non-fiction novel. The resulting book "In Cold Blood" was published in 1966 and is considered by many to be his masterpiece. "In Cold Blood" is the story of the murder, in 1959, of four members of a farming family in Kansas. To write this book Capote left his jet-set friends and went to Kansas. There he delved into small-town life and recorded the process by which they had delt with their loss. While he was there the two murderers were caught and Capote started interviewing both of them. Capote remained enmeshed in the lives of the townspeople and their story for six years, during which time he took thousands of pages of notes. When the book was released it became an instant bestseller and sold-out instantly. About "In Cold Blood" Capote said "This book was an important event for me. While writing it, I realized I just might have found a solution to what had always been my greatest creative quandary. I wanted to produce a journalistic novel, something on a large scale that would have the credibility of fact, the immediacy of film, the depth and freedom of prose, and the precision of poetry".
After the publication, and subsequent success, of "In Cold Blood", Capote swiftly moved to his next novel, the proustian "Answered Prayers", the title coming from the saying by Saint Theresa that "answered prayers cause more tears than those that remain unanswered". The book was intended to be a bitingly honest portrayal of the high flying jet-setting world in which Capote lived. In 1975 the first chapters of the novel were released in Esquire magazine and caused a major scandal, in the words of the columist Liz Smith "He wrote what he knew, which is what people always tell writers to do, but he just didn't wait till they were dead to do it". The result of the scandal caused was that Capote was isolated from the world which he was both researching and living in and he started his decline into drugs and alcholism. "Answered Prayers" was never finished, although it was published 1986 as "Answered Prayers: The Untitled Novel".
Truman Capote died in Los Angeles on the 26th August 1984 of a liver disease complicated by drug and alcohol abuse.
Works By Truman Capote
- Short Stories
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