Truman Capote: Biography, Books & Facts

Instructor: Bryanna Licciardi

Bryanna has received both her BA in English and MFA in Creative Writing. She has been a writing tutor for over six years.

Truman Capote is perhaps one of the most interesting American authors of the 20th century. Learn about the man behind the critically acclaimed stories.

Biography

Truman Capote was born on September 30, 1924, in New Orleans, to the name Truman Streckfus Persons. Abandoned by his parents often, most of his childhood was spent in the care of his relatives. Capote early on became invested in literature, teaching himself how to read and write even before he started school. However, his feelings of neglect deeply affected him and made him desperate for his parents' attention. After a gruesome divorce-turned-custody battle, Truman hoped their fight for his care meant his luck would be changing. His mother won custody in 1932 and moved Truman to New York with her and her new husband. In 1935, Truman was adopted by his stepfather and, thus, became Truman Capote. Unfortunately, his mother's psychological problems and heavy drinking turned her cruel. Much of her time with him was spent picking on him for his effeminate personality and love of literature.

Truman Capote, 1959
Truman Capote photo 1959

Capote's creativity and knack for storytelling captivated his schoolmates, but frustrated his mother. She wanted him to be more masculine. In 1936, she sent him to military school, where he was often bullied. Capote was the smallest boy in his class, making him an easy target among the other boys. His mother's instability would ultimately prove fatal, however. She eventually committed suicide, devastating Capote.

As an adult, Capote's first job was copyboy for The New Yorker. After trying and failing to get his work published there, he left to become a full-time writer. He began working on a novel, but it was his short stories that would get him attention. Truman's stories began appearing in Mademoiselle and Harper's Bazaar, which got him notoriety in the New York literary circle. In 1946, he was invited in to the elite Yaddo artists' colony, and soon after that, his short story 'Miriam' won the O. Henry Award.

In 1948, after his first novel achieved moderate success, he met the love of his life. Jack Dunphy and Truman remained a couple for 35 years, socializing, traveling, and writing together. After the prolonged and difficult writing of In Cold Blood, his number one best seller, Capote turned to drinking and drugs. The dark nature of the nonfiction novel had definitely taken its toll on his psyche. Despite several attempts to rehabilitate himself, his health and romantic relationship deteriorated. Though they remained friends, by the 1970s, Dunphy and Capote were separated.

Capote grew heavily involved in the party scene at Studio 54, with famous partiers like Andy Warhol and Liza Minnelli. His social life was all but killed, however, after his notable scandal. Capote threw a fantastic masquerade ball in which he gathered many high societal secrets among his friends. Soon after, he published a chapter in Esquire magazine, titled 'La Côte Basque 1965'. The publication was filled with the dirty, scandalous secrets of his socialite friends, some of which he did not even try to veil. Many never forgave him after that, and he was ostracized from society. Self-destructing, he continued to spiral until August 25, 1984, when Capote died while visiting a friend in California.

Books

Other Voices, Other Rooms (1948)

Other Voices Other Rooms cover photo

This semi-autobiographical novel follows an effeminate teenage boy who is sent to live with his estranged father following his mother's death. Its unique coming-of-age perspective, as well as themes of homosexuality and abandonment, majorly impacted the literary critics, who compared Capote to such greats as William Falkner and Edgar Allan Poe. The novel's success led to studios fighting for the movie rights.

Breakfast at Tiffany's (1958)

Breakfast at Tiffanys cover

This novella births Capote's most famous character, Holly Golightly, the young farm-girl-turned-socialite. Discretely exchanging sexual favors for money and presents, Holly's character shocked readers of the time. In fact, though the novella was critically successful, Holly's character was extremely downplayed in the film adaptation in order to avoid scandal. Capote was disappointed in the film adaptation. He hated Audrey Hepburn for the role of Holly because she was too elegant, and therefore not right for the part. He had lobbied for Marilyn Monroe, but she was unavailable. Lucky for Hepburn, the role catapulted her into fame, and her Holly became an iconic screen performance.

In Cold Blood (1966)

In Cold Blood cover

His nonfiction novel explores the infamous murders of a Kansas farming family. It started out as an article for The New Yorker but evolved into something much greater. Capote spent years researching and interviewing those involved in the case, especially the two convicted murderers. The murderous duo became very close with Capote and had hoped he would help them escape the death penalty. Capote's chosen title however, revealed the premeditated nature of their crime and squashed their hopes of surviving the trials. When their execution date was set, they requested Capote be present.

Other stories include A Tree of Light, and Other Stories (1949), Local Color (1950), The Grass Harp (1951), Music for Chameleons (1980), and Summer Crossing (2006), published posthumously.

Photograph of Truman Capote, 1968
Truman Capote photograph, 1968

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