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Queer kinship in the early writings of Truman Capote


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At the LA Review of Books, Eric Newman delves into the early stories of Truman Capote, which were recently unearthed in the archives of the New York Public Library, and which Capote wrote in his teens. According to Newman, the stories bespeak the isolation and determination of a gay young man struggling to find his place in a world with few queer models for how to live:

For those of us who found in Capote’s words some sense of kinship, a queer uncle of sorts, the Early Stories offers a chance to recognize the familiar isolation and yearning that defined our own late teenage years — not only the sense that we were different, but that we suffered along with others and that suffering mattered. Gay youth, and certainly the gay youth of Capote’s era, orient themselves in the world through a complex encounter with the men and women whose experiences seem to model, in partial and always incomplete ways, their own. Nearly all of these short pieces focus on the experience of characters navigating love, loss, belonging, and difference in ways that articulate a queer struggle for recognition and identity mapped underneath those tales.

The collection embraces the outcast and marginalized. The omniscient consciousness that looms over these stories observes with tenderness the loneliness and social isolation of its characters—the jilted woman, the homesick black cook, the socially ostracized widow, the betrayed friend, the schoolgirl passing for white at a segregated school. These moments recall a famous image from Capote’s childhood: afternoons stolen up in a tree, where he and Harper Lee ran to escape the world and write their own stories. That kind of escape resounds with my own gay childhood, one spent vouchsafing my time alone so I could observe the world around me and discern my place within it. Such observation from the safe perch of a tree or sequestered in a bedroom helps to secure a sense of self that will be able to make connection in a world that might otherwise read as hostile. In Early Stories, connections are forged by recognizing the alienation of others as versions of our own.

Image of Truman Capote via literaryfictions.com.