an interview with george plimpton   introduction  

photo of george plimpton

When did you first hear about Truman Capote?

I read his book Other Voices, Other Rooms and of course was aware of the turmoil surrounding its publication.

What were your initial thoughts on his writing?

I remember being awed by it--the uniqueness and nicety of style--and I suspect I was a bit jealous because we were more or less of the same generation.

Can you tell us about your interactions with him?

He lived not far from us--less than a mile--in Sagaponack, Long Island. I often saw him at dinner parties and house parties--often in Florida where he stayed with the Loel Guinesses in Manalapan.

Did you ever interview him for The Paris Review?

Yes. He was interviewed in the early '60s by a young novelist, Pati Hill.

What inspired this book?

Truman struck me as a perfect subject for an oral biography, namely someone who has moved through a considerable strata of contemporaries: from murderers to the highest level of society.

Tell us about how the book is written, a form you call "oral biography."

In brief, an oral biography consists of edited transcripts stitched together in chronological order to form a seamless whole.

How do you determine what is true and what is not?

That is one of the problems with oral biography, in that many different points of view are offered: contradictions, refutations, and so on. It is also one of the pleasures of oral biography, in that the reader, rather than editor, is jury.

Don DeLillo's new novel brilliantly reimagines Truman's Black and White Ball and calls it "the famous event of the era." Why does this party still stand out as the ultimate gala event?

Somehow it caught the public's attention as few parties have. The New York Times published the guest list on the front page. The masks were a brilliant concept.

What is the most interesting fact about Truman Capote you discovered while writing this book?

A compassionate side of the man that I never knew--a letter to Dominick Dunne, whom he scarcely knew, helping him through a crisis, his relationship with Kate Harrington.

What is your favorite story about Truman Capote?

My favorite monologue in the book is Kate Harrington's story of her relationship with Truman.

What is your favorite Capote book?

In Cold Blood.

What was it about the man that endures today? Why are people still so interested?

I am astonished at the reaction of people when Truman's name is mentioned--an eagerness to know more about him, his life, his contemporaries. I think people are aware of how varied and interesting his life was--always at the center of things--as well as aspects of his decline. The success of the stage play Tru is indicative of the profound curiosity the public still holds for Truman--a small town boy who made it and then succumbed to the vicissitudes of fame.

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