My Archival Wanderings: Truman Capote interview

Publish date:

Newquist: If you were to give advice to a young person intent on a literary career, what would that advice be?
Capote: People are always asking me if they believe that writing can be taught. My answer is, “No—I don’t think writing can be taught.” But on the other hand, if I were a young writer and convinced of my talent, I could do a lot worse than to attend a really good college workshop—for one reason only. Any writer, and especially the talented writer, needs an audience. The more immediate that audience is, the better for him because it stimulates him in his work; he gets a better view of himself and a running criticism.
Young writers couldn’t get this even if they were publishing stories all the time. You publish a story and there’s no particular reaction. It’s as though you shot an arrow into the dark. You may get letters from people who like or didn’t like it, or a lot of reviews that really don’t mean anything, but if you are working in close quarters with others who are also interested in writing, and you’ve got an instructor with a good critical sense, there’s a vast stimulation.
I’ve never had this happen to me, but I know it must be so. I’ve given various readings and lectures at universities, so I have had some first-hand observation of it, though I never attended such a workshop myself, but if I were a young writer I would. I think a college workshop would be enormously helpful and stimulating.

Hi Writers,
It’s the 2nd week in my archival excavations and I’m beginning to worry, just a little, about booklice ... but it’s well worth it for all the great stuff I’ve been finding.

Today’s exhibit: An excerpt from a 1966 Q&A with Truman Capote [from the January 1966 issue of Writer’s Digest. Interview conducted by Roy Newquist]

Newquist: What obligation, if any, do you feel the writer owes the subject matter he works with and the public for which he writes?
Capote: I think the only person a writer has an obligation to is himself. If what I write doesn’t fulfill something in me, if I don’t honestly feel it’s the best I can do, then I’m miserable. In fact, I just don’t publish it.
The only obligation any artist can have is to himself. His work means nothing, otherwise. It has no meaning. That’s why it’s so absolutely boring to write a film script. The great sense of self-obligation doesn’t enter into it because too many people are involved. Thus the thing that propels me, that makes me proud of my work, is utterly absent. I’ve only written two film scripts and I must admit that in a peculiar way I enjoyed doing them, but the true gratification of writing was completely absent; the obligation was to the producers and the actors, to what I was being paid to do, and not to myself. The only really gratifying thing is to serve yourself. To give yourself free law, as it were.

Newquist: In looking at today’s creative arts, literature in particular, what do you find that you most admire? Conversely, what do you most deplore?
Capote: I find that a very hard question to answer. I really don’t deplore anything, because I like all creative actions just as actions themselves, whether I personally enjoy them or not. I can’t deplore them just because I don’t think they are right. Now, none of this “beat” writing interests me at all. I think it’s fraudulent. I think it’s all evasive. Where there is no discipline there is nothing. I don’t even find that the beat writing has a surface liveliness—but that’s neither here nor there because I’m sure that eventually something good will come out of it. Some extraordinary person will be encouraged by it who could never have accepted the rigid disciplines of what I consider good writing.

This excerpt was pulled from a much longer interview. I really do wish I could share the entire piece with you, it's amazing, but there are rights issues I need to be careful about. I’ll explain further at the end of my archival wanderings in late-March.

Check back tomorrow for the continuation of my big dig.

Keep Writing,


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