Today in Literary History – the birth of Truman Capote

The American writer Truman Capote was born on September 30, 1924, in New Orleans, Louisiana. His name at birth was Truman Streckfus Persons. His parents divorced when he was young and his mother later married a rather dodgy Cuban businessman named Joe Capote, who adopted Truman and gave him his new surname.

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When I was young I was devoted to television talk shows – Johnny Carson, Dick Cavett, and in a pinch, Merv Griffen – and so I was aware of Capote long before I read anything by him. He was a celebrity with a slow Southern drawl and a quick wit, always opinionated, often drunk.

I’ve read some of his fiction but it doesn’t connect with me the way his “non-fiction novel” In Cold Blood does.

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I re-read it recently and I still think it is a towering achievement. With his childhood friend Harper Lee (the author of To Kill a Mockingbird) Capote spent time in Holcombe, Kansas investigating a quadruple murder at a local farm in 1959. The book that eventually resulted is a marvelous synthesis of sympathy and curiosity.

Capote began his career as an elfin boy wonder. Later he became a celebrity socialite. But in the end, addicted to pills, cocaine and alcohol, he unravelled in public and died a very sad death. His work is left to speak for itself, and In Cold Blood speaks loudly to me.

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