Truman Capote Biography

Truman Capote Biography

Truman Capote’s greatest success and biggest downfall was In Cold Blood. When the book was published in 1966, the never-modest Capote hailed it as a new genre, “the nonfiction novel.” The book was well-received, commercially successful, and spawned a film adaptation the following year. Despite this, Capote was dogged by rumors that he exaggerated, twisted, or fabricated large portions of the work. Capote naturally denied these rumors, and though his own penchant for hyperbole and self-promotion have led some critics to continue to doubt the truthfulness of In Cold Blood, it remains a towering literary achievement and a staple of true-crime literary studies. Although his later years were marked by scandal and substance abuse, Capote’s body of work ensured his reputation as a literary and cultural icon.

Facts and Trivia

  • Summer Crossing, an unpublished romance that was Capote’s first novel, was rediscovered and received its first printing in 2005.
  • Despite his reputation as a brilliant intellectual with blistering wit, Capote never attended college. He also believed that writing could not be taught.
  • The character of Dill in Harper Lee’s novel To Kill a Mockingbird is based on Capote.
  • Capote, in a bit of ironic casting, appeared in Neil Simon’s mystery spoof Murder by Death as a millionaire trying to outwit the world’s most famous mystery characters.
  • Capote’s research for In Cold Blood was the subject of two concurrently produced films, 2005’s much-lauded Capote (featuring Phillip Seymour Hoffman) and 2006’s Infamous.


(History of the World: The 20th Century)

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.

Early Life

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.

Life’s Work

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.)

Truman Capote Biography

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Capote frequently depicted isolated, alienated personalities engaged in a desperate pursuit of love, seeking a place of security and belonging. That search is seen in the plights of characters as varied as Joel Sansom, Holly Golightly, and Judge Cool and the tree dwellers of The Grass Harp; it is found even in the real-life personalities of the killers in In Cold Blood.

The sense of personal desolation and anxiety is depicted with varying styles; Capote’s early work has a romantically dense and suggestive metaphorical style, whereas later in his career he developed the stylized but factually based approach that he called the “nonfiction novel.” All writing, Capote often said, like all art, has at its center a perfectly wrought core and shape. It is this distilled essence in his writing, coupled with his theme of the individually bruised soul seeking safety, that gives his works their almost unbearable tension.

Truman Capote Biography

(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Because his parents were divorced when he was four years old, Truman Capote was reared by aunts and cousins in a small town in Alabama. At seventeen, he moved to New York City and worked his way up from mailroom clerk to feature writer for The New Yorker. Capote’s early promise seemed fulfilled with the success of In Cold Blood, and he spent many years traveling around the world as a celebrated author. He became the pet celebrity for a number of high-society women, most notably Barbara “Babe” Paley and Lee Bouvier Radziwill, sister of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. His charmed life seemed to fade, however, under the pressure of trying to produce another successful novel. During the 1970’s and early 1980’s, Capote’s health was ruined by alcoholism and drug dependency.

The downslide began in 1975, however, when Esquire magazine published Capote’s story “La Côte Basque: 1965.” The story was a thinly veiled exposé of the scandals of the rich and famous, and its targets did not appreciate the publicity. Capote’s friends immediately ostracized him, and he became persona non grata in many of the places he had previously frequented. Depressed by the reaction that his story generated, Capote became reclusive. His work deteriorated even more, and he did not produce anything to rival his earlier writing before he died at the home of his longtime friend Joanne Carson in 1984.

Truman Capote Biography

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Truman Capote, whose name at birth was Truman Streckfus Persons, was born in New Orleans on September 30, 1924. His mother, Nina (Faulk) Persons, only sixteen when he was born, had married a traveling salesman, Joseph Persons, to escape the drabness of her hometown, Monroeville, Alabama. The marriage soon proved unhappy, and by the time Capote was four years old his parents had become divorced. When his mother moved to New York, she sent her son (an only child) to live with a variety of relatives in the South. From the time Capote was four until he was ten, he lived outside Monroeville, where one of his neighbors was Nelle Harper Lee, who later put him into her novel To Kill a Mockingbird (1960) as Dill, the strange, brilliant little boy who is “passed from relative to relative.” The relatives with whom he stayed were four elderly, unmarried cousins—three women and their brother. One of the women was Sook Faulk, a childlike, simple woman, wise in ways that mattered to a small boy who otherwise lived much to himself and within his own imagination. Sook Faulk inspired the character of Dolly Talbo in The Grass Harp, and Capote later commemorated his childhood friendship with her in his autobiographical stories A Christmas Memory and The Thanksgiving Visitor. In his secluded life in rural Alabama, he read Charles Dickens and other novelists at an early age and made his first attempts at fiction at the age of ten. Feeling himself different from others, without the love of a mother or father, uncertain even of a home, Capote developed the sense of isolation that informs all of his fiction.

Capote’s childhood wanderings continued after he left Monroeville in 1934. At different times, he stayed with cousins in New Orleans, and at one point he lived with a family in Pass Christian, Mississippi, which provided the setting for Other Voices, Other Rooms. In 1939, when he was sixteen, he went to New York to join his mother and her second husband, Joseph Garcia Capote, a Cuban textile manufacturer who legally adopted him and whose surname he took. At this time, he was sent to a series of boarding schools in New York and then to Greenwich High School in Millbrook, Connecticut, where his parents had moved. At seventeen, he dropped out of school and found work with The New Yorker magazine. After two years, he left his job to live with relatives in Alabama and begin a first novel, Summer Crossing, later discarded when he began work on Other Voices, Other Rooms.

Capote had been sending out stories for publication since he was fifteen; by the time he was seventeen he had his first acceptances, and in Alabama he wrote his first important stories—“Miriam” and “A Tree of Night.” With a fifteen-hundred-dollar advance from Random House for his novel in progress, he traveled to New Orleans, then to New York and Nantucket,...

(The entire section is 1187 words.)

Truman Capote Biography

(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

For almost forty years, Truman Capote (kuh-POH-tee) 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...

(The entire section is 499 words.)

Truman Capote Biography

(Nonfiction Classics for Students)

Capote was born Truman Streckfus Persons—the only child of a failed marriage between a former Miss Alabama and a steamboat owner—on...

(The entire section is 416 words.)

Truman Capote Biography

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Truman Capote was born Truman Streckfus Persons, the only child of J. Archulus Persons and Lillie Mae Faulk Persons. During the first six years of his childhood, the boy frequently was handed off to the care of relatives by his carefree and irresponsible parents. Following his parents’ permanent separation when Truman was six, he was left fully in the care of relatives in Monroeville, Alabama.

Being raised by a series of relatives, Capote had a lonely childhood existence; the experience forced him, as he said in many interviews as an adult, to create his own world, personality, and sense of identity. The search for that sense of selfhood was to be a frequent theme in his literary work, both fiction and nonfiction....

(The entire section is 1352 words.)

Truman Capote Biography

(Short Stories for Students)

Truman Capote drew on his own youthful experience in rural Alabama to write ''A Christmas Memory." This story, which he called his personal...

(The entire section is 570 words.)