Banned Books That Shaped America: In Cold Blood

The Library of Congress created an exhibit, “Books that Shaped America,” that explores books that “have had a profound effect on American life.” Many of the books in the exhibit have been banned/challenged.  Give yourself the gift of a beautiful story and read one and them imagine what your life would be like if you were never given that gift.

Fight censorship.

In Cold Blood, Truman Capote, 1966

The subject of controversy in an AP English class in Savannah, GA after a parent complained about sex, violence and profanity. Banned but brought back.

cold blood

Truman Capote (1924-1984) was one of the most notorious writers of his time. Bitter public feuds with contemporaries such as Jackie Onassis, Norman Mailer, and Gore Vidal made Capote more than an author. His overt homosexuality, wit, and knockout opinions kept him on television and in magazines as a major personality.

Capote did not attend college. Instead, he published a few short stories and eventually a first novel, Other Voices, Other Rooms, in 1948. A succession of books followed, as did involvement with the stage and film. In 1958 he wrote Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Finally, after almost ten years living in Europe, he returned to the United States in the late 1950s hoping to compose what he termed “an epic nonfiction novel.”

In Cold Blood was that book. In 1959, Capote noticed a small newspaper item describing the mysterious murder of a Kansas ranch family of four. He decided that this might be the perfect story for him to write about. Five years of intense research followed, during which time Capote became very close to the two murderers, Richard Eugene Hickock and Perry Edward Smith. He talked to the townspeople of Holcomb, where the murders were committed, and nearby Garden City. He followed the police investigation and the eventual appeals process until the execution of Hickock and Smith in 1965. During interviews he never took notes or used a tape recorder; instead he was able to transcribe the interviews from memory, a skill he had been practicing for years.

The result, published in January 1966, was a long and highly acclaimed novel, a success critically and commercially. It is a favorite among schoolchildren and inmates alike. According to Capote, every word of In Cold Blood is true. And Capote himself never appears in the book. He believed that the key to good journalism was making the author invisible.

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