Truman Capote Biography

Truman Capote (1924-1984), American novelist, screenwriter, and playwright, most famous for his carefully crafted prose and innovative attempts to blend imaginative literature with nonfiction, a style known as New Journalism. Capote’s most famous work is In Cold Blood (1966), a book that mixes fact and fiction.

Capote was born Truman Streckfus Persons in New Orleans, Louisiana, and spent much of his childhood living with a succession of relatives in various regions of the rural South. Following his mother's second marriage, he adopted his stepfather’s surname and attended schools in New York City and Greenwich, Connecticut. Abandoning formal education when he was 17, Capote found work at the New Yorker magazine and soon began to publish short stories.

Capote's first novel, Other Voices, Other Rooms (1948), dealt with a boy coming to terms with his homosexuality in the Deep South. The controversial subject matter of the novel created a great deal of publicity and helped make the book a commercial success. Capote's next book, A Tree of Night and Other Stories (1949), ranged from tales of horror and psychological torment to warm-hearted stories about children.

After the publication of Tree of Night, Capote traveled in Europe, eventually settling in Sicily for two years. Local Color (1950), a collection of essays based on his travels in Europe, signaled Capote's growing interest in nonfiction. In 1951 Capote published The Grass Harp, a novel about three misfits who decide to take up residence in a tree house. For much of the 1950s, Capote concentrated on writing for the stage and motion pictures. He adapted The Grass Harp and a short story called “The House of Flowers” into plays that were performed in New York City's Broadway theater district. He also collaborated with American motion picture director John Huston on the film-noir spoof Beat the Devil (1954).

In late 1955 and early 1956 Capote toured the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) with an American theater troupe performing George Gershwin's Porgy and Bess (1926), an American folk opera depicting the lives of African Americans in South Carolina. He recorded the experience in the satirical work The Muses Are Heard (1956). His next book, Breakfast at Tiffany's: A Short Novel and Three Stories (1958), quickly found a wide readership. The title story, about a young woman who abandons her rural life for the glamour of New York City, was adapted into the acclaimed motion picture Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961), starring Audrey Hepburn.

Capote next spent six years researching and writing In Cold Blood (1966), a “nonfiction novel” that tells the story of the murder of a Kansas farm family by two drifters. Although Capote's use of novelistic techniques to recount an actual event created a stir at the time of the book's publication, it proved to be one the most widely read and influential American literary works of the 1960s. The book was adapted into a film of the same title the following year.

After the publication of In Cold Blood, Capote became a part of fashionable society, associating with many of the wealthiest and most glamorous people of the era. In the late 1960s Capote began writing an autobiographical book to be titled Answered Prayers. When portions of the work were published in magazines in the mid-1970s, Capote was heavily criticized for depicting his rich and famous friends in an unflattering light. Upset by the criticism and soon socially ostracized, Capote never completed the book. Music for Chameleons (1980), a collection of stories and essays, partially restored Capote's reputation, but the author gradually sank into depression, alcoholism, and drug abuse. In the last years of his life he was better known as a media celebrity than as a writer. Answered Prayers: The Unfinished Novel was published in 1986, after Capote's death.

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