Sunday, January 3, 2010

BC About the Author: Truman Capote

Truman Capote was born Truman Steckfus Persons in New Orleans on September 30, 1924, to 17-year-old Lillie Mae Faulk and Archulus ("Arch") Persons, a dissolute salesman. Capote's early life was marked by instability and poverty. When Faulk and Persons separated in 1928, he was left to be raised by relatives in Monroeville, Alabama, where he began what would become a lifelong friendship with Harper Lee, later the author of the renowned novel To Kill A Mockingbird (The character Dill was said to be based on Capote). An unusual and observant child, Truman was determined to become a writer. He taught himself to read at age four and by age eight was "practicing" at writing in daily sessions. The details of the rural South, its oppressive poverty and wise, headstrong characters, impressed on the young Capote's imagination. He later drew on his memories of Alabama for some of his most famous writing. +/-

In 1933, Lillie Mae, who then called herself Nina, remarried to a successful Cuban businessman, Joe Capote. Truman soon joined the couple in New York City, where he adopted his stepfather's surname and began an uneven career as a student in both private and public high schools in New York and Connecticut. While Capote was intelligent and highly focused on writing, he was uninterested in academics, and dropped out of his fourth year of high school when offered a 2-year contract position as a copy boy at the New Yorker. There, he attracted the attention of many of the city's literary and social elite, as much for his flamboyant wardrobe as for his mature, evocative prose. In 1942, Capote published his first short story, "Miriam", in the magazine Mademoiselle, which won him the 1946 prestigious O. Henry award for Best First-Published Story. He soon gained a contract with Random House, who advanced him $1500 for his first novel.

Other Voices, Other Rooms, published in 1948, was widely publicized and remained on the New York Times best-seller list for nine weeks. With his first novel, Capote became famous as a novelist and as a controversial figure who had captured the public's imagination. Other works include The Grass Harp (a novella), Breakfast at Tiffany’s (which was quickly adapted into a movie), and In Cold Blood. With the last in the list Capote secured his reputation as one of the most important American writers of the century. A novel-length exploration of the aftermath of the real-life murder of a family in remote Holcomb, Kansas, In Cold Blood required extensive on-site research, and he took over five years to complete the manuscript. It was an international best-seller and pioneered a new genre of literature: the non-fiction novel.

In his time in the public spotlight, Capote was renowned for his social stature and for his contributions to literature. His friends included actors, authors, critics, royalty, and aristocrats, whom he entertained in famous style. In 1966, in honor of Washington Post publisher Katharine Graham, Capote hosted the "Black & White Ball", a themed costume party widely regarded as the most important social event of the decade. Capote's natural talent for weaving truth with fiction and his unflinching descriptions of his friends soon led to his rapid descent in popularity in the social circles he had worked so hard to adopt. The rejection of his friends let to his increased drinking and drug use. His lack of continued sobriety in later years was matched only by his lack of work. Capote became more of a recluse and his last work, Answered Prayers (where he offended many of his friends) was published after his death. Truman Capote died on August 25, 1984, of liver failure. Today, Capote's life and works continue to capture public interest, with film versions of Other Voices, Other Rooms, In Cold Blood, and The Grass Harp released after his death. The 2005 biographical film Capote dramatized the author's often difficult process of researching In Cold Blood and was nominated for numerous awards. His presence remains alive in the 21st century, even among today's celebrated caricatures.

You can read more about Truman Capote and his body of works at this website.

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