Truman Capote

American Author


Home Life
  • Born September 30, 1924 in New Orleans, Louisiana
  • Died August 24, 1984 in Los Angeles, California
  • Birth name - Truman Streckfus Persons
  • Mother - Lillie Mae Faulk, gave birth at 17
  • Father - Archulus Persons, dishonest salesman
  • Parents were neglectful leading to many of his unusual characteristics as an adult
  • Spent most of his childhood years living with his mother's relatives in Monroeville, Alabama
  • Became childhood friends with his neighbor, Harper Lee, author of To Kill a Mockingbird
  • Capote and Lee complimented eachother very well, as Capote was shy and feminine while Lee was tomboyish and adventurous
  • It is widely believed that the character Dill from To Kill a Mockingbird is based on Capote.
  • Shy behavior likely result of neglect from his parents
  • Struglled with sense of abandonment from his parents
  • During his parents' divorce, he would often use their fight for his custody as a way to taunt and hurt his parents.
  • Mother gained custody
  • Moved to New York with his mother and stepfather, Joe Capote
  • Mother had unstable personality; wometimes she would be very loving and affectionate, other times she would taunt him for his feminine personality.
  • She eventually became an alcoholic.
  • Stepfather had much more stable personality; however, Capote was not accepting of his help possibly because of previous abodonment from his birth parents
  • Adopted by stepfather and changed his name to Truman Garcia Capote

School Life

  • Mediocre student
  • Only payed attention to classes he found interesting such as English and writing classes
  • Attended all boys school in Manhattan (1933-1936) where he became well liked for his unusual personality and story telling abilities
  • Mother sent him to military school (1936-1937), hoping he would become more masculine
  • In reality, military school only made him more insecure because he was picked on for being small and feminine.
  • Returned to Manhattan where his teachers began to notice his strong writing skills
  • In 1939 he moved to Greenwich, Connecticut where he attended Greenwich High School.
  • In high school, he met several friens with whim he would go to clubs, often illegally.
  • Poor attitude towards academics combined with party life style led to his delcine in academic success
  • Had to repeat 12th grade.

Writing Career

  • First job was working as a copy boy for The New Yorker magazine
  • Attempted to get stories published there, but had no success
  • After experiencing no writing success with The New Yorker, he quit his job to work on his first novel Summer Crossing
  • Shelved Summer Crossing to work on Other Voices, Other Rooms which would become his first published novel (1948)
  • Novel was recieved with mixed reviews
  • Many praised him for his writing abilities; however, the content of the novel was widely questioned as it included multiple unique characters of several different races and homosexual themes
  • Capote was also recognized for his short stories, some of which were published in th magazine Mademoiselle
  • Short stories such as A Tree of Light, My Side of the Matter, and Jug of Silver got him recognition in the New York writing world
  • Several of Capote's works were adapted into musicals and movies, the most famous being Breakfast at Tiffany's
  • Writing allowed Capoted to open up socially in ways he had never felt comfortable during his childhood.
  • He developed a relationship with another author named Jack Dunphy. The romance lasted 35 years.
  • Capote became friends with many elite figures including Jackie Kennedy, Babe and Bill Paley (founder of CBS), and Gloria Guinness.
  • Published most successful novel In Cold Blood in 1965 after years of working on the story
  • Project started out as a news article for The New Yorker for which Capote and Harper Lee set out to interview friends and family of the murder victims in Kansas.
  • Capote became increasingly close to the two suspects
  • Based on entirely on true events, In Cold Blood became the first "true crime" novel, a non-fiction crime story written in the style of a narrative.
  • In Cold Blood became Capote's most famous novel; however, the contact and research on the murders was both physically and psychologically draining, and Capote never wrote another novel.
  • Capote became increasingly addicted to drugs and alcohol
  • After his writing career, Capote remained involved in the celebrity social scene
  • In 1966, Capote hosted a massive ball for his huge network of friends and family only to later go on to say that he was never very close to any of them.
  • Capote then lost many friends and grew apart from his partner.
  • Towards the end of his life, Capote became a fountain of gossip for the celebrity world.
  • He died in his home in Los Angeles on August 24, 1984 likely because of his addiction issues.

Defining Quote

"Writing has laws of perspective, of light and shade just as painting does, or music. If you are born knowing them, fine. If not, learn them. Then rearrange the rules to suit yourself."

-Truman Capote

Drawing Comparisons



In the article "Truman Capote and the Old Failings of New Journalism", author John Keenan resurfaces and supports a claim made by Ronald Nye, son of a lawman involved in the Kansas murders, that Capote's supposed "true crime" novel was hardly rooted in fact. According to Keenan, Nye's father was so upset by the inaccuracy of In Cold Blood that he threw the book at the wall after reading it, calling it garbage. Refusing to deny Capote's abilities as a writer, yet still refuting the historical accuracy of the novel, Keenan suggests that Capote exaggerated and added to the murder story. New journalism focuses on the colorful details of the story being covered, so consequently the entertainment factor of the work takes priority over the writing's accuracy. As stated by Keenan, new journalism is meant to be read for entertainment, so the best way to obtain accurate information is to read traditional news articles.

Periodic sentence: Refusing to deny Capote's abilities as a writer, yet still refuting the historical accuracy of the novel, Keenan suggests that Capote exaggerated and added to the murder story.

Participial phrase: Refusing to deny Capote's abilities as a writer...


In Cold Blood

Historical Context

  • The novel was written primarily in the early 1960s, during the Cold War, specifically during the conflict in Vietnam. During this time period, much of America was involved in both war protests and the civil rights movement, so a murder in western Kansas, while unusual, was not the nation's primary concern. Capote's novel, however, brought nationwide attention to the Clutter family murders in addition to propelling him to the highest ranks of American authors.


  • Religion - While not extremely religious himself, Capote emphasizes the prominence of Christianity in Holcomb, Kansas. He accurately captures the town's perception that those who are religious are good, and those who aren't are bad by juxtaposing the Clutter family's religious ties with Smith and Hicock's lack of religion.
  • Capote's connections - while interviewing the criminals, Capote became enthralled with Smith on a highly personal level. Like Capote, Smith was small and thin and grew up with neglectful parents. Capote likely saw much of himself in Smith which is reflected by his descriptions in the book and even his remorse after the killers were executed.
  • Criminality - the main question presented in the novel is not who committed the crime but why they did it. At this time period in history, many psychological advancements and improvements to the treatment of criminals were being made, so this novel presents multiple possibilities as to why the killings took place from poor childhood conditions to mental illness to lack of religion, but in the end it is decided that no matter the circumstances all criminals have the choice of whether or not to commit the crime.

Time Period Reflections

  • The novel reflects the prominence of Christianity in 1960s America by associating the victims, or the "good guys" with religion, and the killers, or the "bad guys" with atheism. Even in their final moments alive, the murderers do not mention any real connections with God.
  • The book depicts the presence of gender roles in 1960s America. Bonnie Clutter is deeply depressed and is ashamed of the fact that she can't fulfill her wifely duties. Additionally, Richard Hickock is extremely involved in fighting, drinking and sex which are all associated with masculinity in the 1960s.
  • If this novel had been set in modern times, the public would likely have associated it more with extreme conservatism. Due to the prominence of religion, today's public, particularly today's youth, would likely have assumed that Capote was more religious than he actually was. The novel would likely still be appreciated; however, it would probably have be criticized for containing sexist and religiously intolerant themes.

Capote's Unique Style

  • Detachment - Capote believed that remaining emotionless in his writing was the most effective way of getting his point across. To Capote, this novel was meant to be factual as well as entertains, so although his descriptions are detailed, his writing remans free of any personal emotions.
  • Unlike Nathaniel Hawthorne, Capote's writing style (content excluded) remained somewhat free of influence from the time period. Hawthorne's romantic novel The Scarlet Letter is heavily characterized by deep, emotional descriptions that were direct reflections of the romantic time period. By contrast, Capote's style in In Cold Blood is detached and free of influence from the abstract, modern art movement of the time period.

Works Cited

"Banned Books Week: 'In Cold Blood' by Truman Capote." District of Columbia Public Library. N.p., n.d. Web. 09 Apr. 2015.

"Collecting Rare Books and First Editions: Truman Capote - Articles about Rare Books, Antiquarian Books, Manuscripts, Autographs, First Editions,... - ILAB-LILA." Collecting Rare Books and First Editions: Truman Capote - Articles about Rare Books, Antiquarian Books, Manuscripts, Autographs, First Editions,... - ILAB-LILA. N.p., n.d. Web. 19 Mar. 2015.

Keenan, John. "Truman Capote and the Old Failings of New Journalism." The Guardian. N.p., n.d. Web. 04 Apr. 2015.

"LITERAGRAMA." : Truman Capote: Periodismo Y Literatura. N.p., n.d. Web. 29 Apr. 2015.

PBS. PBS, n.d. Web. 29 Apr. 2015.

"Truman Capote." A&E Networks Television, n.d. Web. 14 Apr. 2015.