This Goodly Land

Truman Capote (September 30, 1924–August 25, 1984)

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Biographical Information

Truman Capote was born in New Orleans but spent much of his childhood in the care of his mother's relatives in Monroeville, Ala. Harper Lee's family lived next door, and the two grew up together and were lifelong friends. In 1933, Capote moved to New York to live with his mother and her second husband, who eventually adopted him. Capote always knew that he would become a writer and began writing stories as a child. He was encouraged in his ambitions by one of his high school teachers, Miss Catherine Wood. Capote decided not to attend college and got a job at The New Yorker magazine as a copyboy and messenger. The New Yorker refused to publish his short stories, but he was able to make helpful contacts in the New York literary world. Capote's big break came when Mademoiselle published his short story "Miriam." He obtained a residency at Yaddo, an artists’ and writers’ colony in upstate New York, where he worked on his writing and made more literary contacts. His first novel, Other Voices, Other Rooms, was published in 1948.

Capote had difficulty writing at his parents’ home in New York and began living and working in Europe for extended periods of time. He also experimented with different forms of writing. In addition to his short stories and novels, Capote wrote travel articles and portraits of celebrities for popular magazines which were later collected and published in book form. He adapted two of his stories for the stage and wrote the screenplay for the film Beat the Devil. In 1959, Capote saw a newspaper account of a set of murders in a small Kansas town. He thought the story would make a good subject for a type of work he called the "nonfiction novel." He and his friend Harper Lee went out to Kansas to do research. The book that resulted from this work, In Cold Blood, took six years to complete. It was immensely successful and left him financially well off but emotionally depleted. He continued writing, but his work was less successful, impaired at least partially by drug and alcohol abuse. In the mid-1970s, Esquire published several chapters of a proposed new book to be called Answered Prayers. The characters were thinly disguised versions of Capote’s celebrity friends, who were outraged at the invasion of their privacy. Cast out of the "jet set," he continued to work, but his abuse of drugs and alcohol caused both his writing and his health to deteriorate. While staying at the home of a friend, he died from complications of liver disease.

Interests and Themes

Truman Capote’s work, both fiction and nonfiction, is notable for vivid characters and poetic evocations of locale. One of his major themes is the loneliness that results from being different and unable to fit into the surrounding world and its society. A Christmas Memory and The Thanksgiving Visitor are warm and loving stories of his childhood in Monroeville.

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Location of Papers

Photo by Carl Van Vechten; courtesy of the Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, Carl Van Vechten Collection, LC-USZ62-118429.

Last updated on May 30, 2008.

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