Article abstract: Recognized as one of the leading American authors of the second half of the twentieth century, Capote regarded himself as a stylist, a writer whose mastery of the craft was so absolute that he could adapt his writing style to any media.
Originally named Truman Streckfus Persons, Truman Capote was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, on September 30, 1924, to Joseph “Arch” Persons and Lillie Mae Faulk Persons. The marriage between what someone described as a “promoter” always looking for the big deal and a seventeen-year-old southern belle seeking to escape her provincial surroundings was doomed from the start, and they soon separated. After several years of nomadic wandering, the precocious Truman was deposited with three elderly maiden cousins and a bachelor uncle in Monroeville, Alabama. The oldest of the sisters was, at age sixty, mentally close to the child’s age and became his best friend.
The terrors of Truman’s early childhood, during which he was often neglected, and the culture of the deep south, with its traditions of superstition, eccentricity, African American culture, poverty, and memories of the Civil War, were powerful factors in shaping both his personality and his writing skills. By his own admission, from the age of eight Truman knew he wanted to be a writer and relentlessly pursued his objective, writing his first short story at the age of ten. Like his mother, he longed to escape his confining surroundings. His chance came at the age of twelve when his mother, who had divorced his father and married Joseph Garcia Capote, a prosperous Cuban businessman, brought her son to live with them in New York City. Formally adopted by his step-father, the boy changed his name to Capote. His mother had changed her name to Nina.
Capote attended a preparatory school and a military academy in New York and then, after his family moved, a high school in Connecticut, but he neglected his studies in favor of writing. An English teacher at the high school recognized the boy’s talent and encouraged his ambitions. Subsequent employment as a copy boy at The New Yorker exposed Capote to some of the best writing and best authors of the time. It was, according to Capote, the best college education a writer could have. Although The New Yorker rejected his stories, Capote’s first published short story, “Miriam” (for which he won an O. Henry Award), appeared in another magazine in 1945. A year at the Yaddo writers’ colony in Saratoga Springs, New York, further broadened his experience and literary connections. By the time he left Yaddo, most of his first novel, for which he had already signed a contract, was complete.
Published in 1948, Capote’s first novel, Other Voices, Other Rooms, was about the coming of age of an adolescent boy in a rundown southern mansion. Intuitively recognizing the value of publicity, Capote had himself photographed in what could best be described as a “decadent” pose. The photograph was emblazoned on the dust jacket and did as much, if not more, to promote the book as its contents. The following year, Capote published a collection of short stories titled A Tree of Night, and Other Stories.
Capote’s next major literary achievement, which again drew on his southern origins and featured his favorite of the three maiden cousins who reared him, was a fantasy called The Grass Harp (1951). In this work, whose improbable locale was a tree house, Capote displayed his full powers for creating memorable characters. It was later revised for the stage. Fascinated with the theater, Capote wrote the book and lyrics for the Harold Arlen musical comedy House of Flowers, which opened in 1954. The locale was a Haitian brothel whose inhabitants were named for flowers. It ran for a respectable 165 performances. That same year, Beat the Devil, a film for which Capote wrote the script, was also released. Screen writing gave Capote the opportunity to demonstrate his mastery at dialogue, and the film achieved a cult status. In 1956, Capote completed what he considered his best travel article, The Muses Are Heard, a whimsical account of his trip with an American theatrical troop that was touring the Soviet Union. In 1958, Capote created his most memorable character,...
(The entire section is 1799 words.)