"Failure is the condiment that gives success its flavor." Truman Capote
Born in New Orleans in 1924 as Truman Streckfus Persons, Capote was abandoned by his social-climbing mother and raised by his elderly aunts and cousins in Monroeville, Alabama. Although much loved by those who raised him, his childhood was somewhat solitary and lonely. Speaking of his early years Capote once related, "I began writing really sort of seriously when I was about eleven. I say seriously in the sense that like other kids go home and practice the violin or the piano or whatever, I used to go home from school every day and I would write for about three hours. I was obsessed by it." One of his childhood friends and neighbors was Harper Lee (b. 1926); apparently Truman was the basis for the dreamy and enigmatic Dill in To Kill a Mockingbird, and it is even rumored that Truman helped Lee write her famous book.
In 1933, Truman's dream of permanently joining his mother in New York finally came true. After winning sole custody of Truman in court, Lillie Mae (also known as Nina) took her son to live with her new husband who, in 1935, adopted Truman so he became Truman Garcia Capote. But Truman's dreams of a fabulous life in New York were systematically shattered as his mother continued to push him away and criticize his lack of masculinity. He dropped out of school at seventeen and got a job with The New Yorker magazine, but his writing was not well suited for the publication and he left in 1944 having not risen above copy boy. Shortly after he began to submit his stories to magazines more suited to his style such as Mademoiselle and Harper's Bizarre, and a few years later one of these stories drew the attention of Random House. His first book, Other Voices, Other Rooms, was published in 1948 and drew instant praise, but also notoriety for its controversial subject matter (a boy who falls in love with a transvestite) and for the provocative back cover photo of Capote.
His novella, Breakfast at Tiffany's (1958) and the subsequent film staring Audrey Hepburn consolidated his reputation and popularity with the social elite; but Capote was not content to rest on his laurels and set of on an experimental project that effectively created a new literary genre, the 'non-fiction novel'. In Cold Blood (1966) is the story of the 1959 murder of the four members of a Kansas farming family. Capote spent the best part of six years (some of the time accompanied by Harper Lee who remained a life-long friend) in Kansas immersing himself in the lives of both the killers (who had been caught) and the townspeople.
After holding the "Black and White Ball" - a masked ball at the Plaza Hotel in New York that was talked about for years by many as the 'party of the century', he set to work writing Answered Prayers, a largely factual account of the high-society world which he occupied. The first few chapters (about 200 pages), published in Esquire in 1975, caused a major scandal and many of his friends and acquaintances abandoned him. As Columnist Liz Smith explained, "He wrote what he knew, which is what people always tell writers to do, but he just didn't wait till they were dead to do it."
Although he claimed to be still working on Answered Prayers, the shock of the negative reactions sent Capote into a spiral of alcohol and drug abuse. He died in 1984 at the age of fifty-nine, having apparently made no progress on what some thought would be his greatest work - which was published posthumously in its unfinished state.
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