Early Capote Novella Finds a Publisher

Two decades after the death of writer Truman Capote, a new manuscript has come to light. Capote wrote the novella Summer Crossing in 1943. Capote's literary executor, Alan Schwartz, tells Debbie Elliott how the work was uncovered.

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DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Debbie Elliott.

Truman Capote's non-fiction work, "In Cold Blood," marked the height of his fame. He was a true literary celebrity known as the tiny terror. Now more than 20 years after his death, Capote is all the rage once again. The new movie, "Capote," is getting rave reviews and this week his recently discovered first novel is out. Capote started writing "Summer Crossing" in 1943, but he discarded it and it was believed to be lost until last year. That's when Alan Schwartz, a friend of Capote's and a literary executor of his estate, received a phone call from Sotheby's. The auction house told him that they had received a box of Capote memorabilia from a nephew of Capote's former house sitter. Alan Schwartz joins us from NPR West.

Welcome.

Mr. ALAN SCHWARTZ (Truman Capote's Literary Executor): Thank you.

ELLIOTT: So, Mr. Schwartz, I'd like to know how the house sitter came across this material in the first place.

Mr. SCHWARTZ: According to Sotheby's, a story which I find somewhat unprobable, but if people will buy the bridge, then they will listen to this story, and basically the story was that Truman had left the apartment and was out in the Hamptons. He called the superintendent of the building of the house and said, `Look, there's stuff in my apartment. Could you please take it all and put it on the street for the garbage truck to take?' So allegedly the house sitter came along and looked at that material and said, `My God, I can't believe that people are throwing that out,' and so took it into the apartment and then kept it with himself for the next 40 or 50 years.

There were memorabilia and there were also manuscript books that looked like the composition books that kids keep at school, you know, the black and white marbled covered books in which there were versions of some of his earlier novels but also this unpublished manuscript as well as a couple of manuscript composition books of revisions to this novel.

ELLIOTT: Now what did you think when you first read "Summer Crossing"?

Mr. SCHWARTZ: I was very skeptical about it, but I was interested in the way Truman began developing characters at a very early age and the way they related to each other in this book. And I thought there were a lot of sort of, you know, sense of Truman in the air in this book, but, of course, it didn't have the final incredible prose discipline that he applied to his later work. But it also had sort of intimations of Holly Golightly in the main character in the book, which I thought, you know, was quite interesting for people who were going to be Capote scholars as the years go by.

ELLIOTT: Now we should fill our listeners in. "Summer Crossing" is the story of a New York debutante and the summer that she has a secret affair with a Jewish parking lot attendant. And the novel does sort of echo this theme of class that was at "Breakfast at Tiffany's" and some of Capote's other works. But I get the sense that he was much younger when he wrote this. How old was he?

Mr. SCHWARTZ: Well, it's hard to say. He was born in 1924, so if he was working on this in the '40s, you know, he was still in his 20s.

ELLIOTT: So this was before he maybe had that entree into the penthouses of Manhattan socialites that he later had. What do you think was drawing him into this world?

Mr. SCHWARTZ: I think that there were two things that were drawing him into this world. One was he craved the kind of celebrity attention he didn't have when he was left by his mother in Alabama with his relatives. So there is that kind of, you know, interest in the other world that he craved. And the other thing was he was a very tough guy, a little guy, and you would easily mistake him for someone who was fragile. But he was anything but fragile. And he was very competitive and I think he sort of loved the challenge that this sort of odd-looking guy with a very high voice, without any background, you know, could come into this world and actually manipulate it to some degree. So that was a real challenge and I think for a while a real satisfaction for him.

ELLIOTT: It must have been difficult for you making that decision whether or not to publish it, knowing he would probably not be happy with it.

Mr. SCHWARTZ: It was extremely difficult and generally people were saying--people who read it--`Look, it's not a great work in the sense that it's very unfinished and it's early.' He was still experimenting with what a novel was and it may be that one of the problems with "Summer Crossing" as being his first work is that he didn't really have the structure down, but it's good enough to stand on its own and it certainly has a lot of value for anybody trying to piece together, you know, the parts of Truman's literary life. So having put all that together, I decided that even if Truman didn't want to have it published, and I had to assume that was the situation, that I would allow it to be published.

ELLIOTT: Do you think scholars are going to be interested in this work or do you think just average readers who like Capote's storytelling?

Mr. SCHWARTZ: I think probably both. I think people do--they get excited about the idea that someone who wrote "Breakfast at Tiffany's" which is I guess that and "In Cold Blood" are Truman's most, you know, popular works actually had written something before which sort of has that aura to it.

ELLIOTT: Finally, Mr. Schwartz, I'd like to know what you think Truman Capote would have made of this sudden resurgence of fame, the movie out, now this book?

Mr. SCHWARTZ: Well, you know, it depends on when he observed it. If he observed it at the end, he would have observed it in a sort of miasma of drinks and drugs and probably wouldn't make anything decent out of it. But if he'd have observed it earlier on, I think he would be really grinning--he has this great grin--on the theory that, you know, he's proven once again that he comes back and surprises--surprises is his big word--and surprises all these people with something even better than they thought he could come back with.

ELLIOTT: Alan Schwartz is the literary executor of Truman Capote's estate.

Thank you for being with us today.

Mr. SCHWARTZ: Thank you.

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