A lost Truman Capote story is published
SCOTT DETROW, HOST:
There's a new Truman Capote short story to read. The acclaimed author who wrote "In Cold Blood" and "Breakfast At Tiffany's," among other works, died nearly 40 years ago. But the new story, "Another Day In Paradise," was found earlier this year, written out in pencil in a Capote notebook housed at the Library of Congress. The story describes an American woman who feels stuck, jilted and lonely in Sicily. Andrew Gulli is the managing editor of The Strand and is the one who found the story. Welcome to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.
ANDREW GULLI: Thank you so much, Scott. Good to be with you.
DETROW: There's so much to talk about here, but let's start with this. What was it like to make this discovery? Tell us what you were doing, where you were, how it happened.
GULLI: I've always been interested in discovering these unpublished manuscripts. And earlier this year, I was looking over the indexes at the Library of Congress, and I was looking for works by James M. Cain. And I said, while I'm at that, I might as well just try to look up and see if there's something by Truman Capote that was never published. So to my surprise, after I hired a researcher to look and see some of the works that I looked in the index, "Another Day In Paradise" was just not familiar with me because I had read all of Truman Capote's stories.
GULLI: So I ended up getting in the mail a bunch of copies of manuscripts, which I just was going over. And I looked at this one, and I said to myself, no, no, no, this has definitely never been published before.
DETROW: So tell us about the story. What's the plot? What do we need to know about it?
GULLI: Well, the story is about an American expat who lives in southern Italy. Her name is Iris Greentree, and she's having another day in paradise, which is, of course, one of those days that many of us have where we're probably on vacation, or it's probably a very sunny day. And everybody around us is very happy, and yet we come to the point where we're saying, what's this all about? This life isn't going so well. And Iris Greentree runs across an acquaintance of hers named Betty Bailitz (ph). And unlike Iris Greentree, Betty Bailitz has had a lot of personal tragedies in her life. Yet she has not turned into becoming a bitter person like Iris but is somebody who's more interested in farming human connections.
And what I loved about this story was how Capote could have these two characters intersecting with each other, one of them who has had it not too badly - she's had some struggles, but not enough struggles to turn her into such a bitter person - well, as the person she runs across is just really, really, really having a bad time of it. Yet she kind of knows how to move forward with life, and she kind of realizes that the only path forward when you're really feeling personally destroyed is to try to grow.
DETROW: You know, this isn't the first time a posthumous work of Truman Capote has been found and published. What made this stand out, and was that a factor as you kind of weighed, is this worth doing work on? Is this worth trying to get into a shape to publish?
GULLI: If a work has value, and it's been published posthumously, we'll publish it. And the interesting thing about Truman Capote is that he may not have been the most prolific writer. He wrote a collection of short stories, four or five novels and sadly, he stopped writing for the last - you know, actively - for the last 16 years of his life. The lure of Capote over many other authors is that he was very, very discerning when he would put pen to paper or typewriter to paper.
DETROW: I mean, a lot of authors, noteworthy and not noteworthy, are pretty prickly about unpublished material and whether or not they feel it's ready to be read. What were the conversations like with his estate and others about going from I found this in a notebook to let's put it out there in a magazine for the world to read.
GULLI: Whenever you published anything like this, you have to go through two hurdles. The first hurdle is myself and my fiction editor and our staff, and many times, we found these many unpublished works. And we've just looked at them and said to ourselves, no, no, this should probably stay in a library for the next 100 years because it won't do their author any favors.
GULLI: When we've overcome that hurdle and we've all said to ourselves, OK, this is something that's really good, this is something that is really relevant to the author and that will enhance his reputation, then we'll go to the literary estate. In the case of the Truman Capote estate, led by Alan Schwartz and Louise Schwartz, they were just so wonderful to work with. And Louise was very, very helpful because the manuscript was written in pencil. And Truman Capote, who I think is - was a wonderful writer, he kind of had handwriting that reminds one of a doctor writing a prescription out.
DETROW: Oh, no. And pencil probably doesn't - I mean, I've found things I've written in pencil in notebooks from, like, 10 years ago, and it's really hard to read. I can't imagine...
DETROW: ...Much, much older than that.
GULLI: So our fiction editor was working on finding these missing words and archaic phrases in Italian. And I was doing some work, and the transcriber was. And then we handed it off to Louise, and Louise was comparing the original manuscript to the transcribed manuscript, and she had so many wonderful suggestions and so many things. So it's not every day that you get an approval from an estate, and it's definitely not every day where the estate helps you transcribe the manuscript.
DETROW: There's so many great things in this story. I love the scenes that he brings to life. I love the writing in the voice of this woman who's really found herself in a bad place through a whole series of bad decisions. Just the idea of being in this beautiful place that - I mean, I would love to be in Sicily in a villa for myself personally, but being so miserable - like, such a great story. How do you think it fits into his broader work?
GULLI: Capote was an expert in writing themes that felt very everyday. And this story has a theme of the expat living in a place that looks like paradise. But perhaps there's a universal message that if a person isn't happy in whatever little town they're living in, which might be, you know, the most boring place to them on the planet, they won't be happy in one of the most beautiful places in the world.
DETROW: And a lot of those themes are still themes that our fiction explores today, but I think increasingly in the form of prestige television shows. I mean, there's one HBO show in particular about miserable rich people in Sicily. But as a whole, a lot of the things in the story are kind of themes that we keep coming back to in different ways, but not necessarily in short stories as much anymore. What do you think the staying appeal of the short story is, a half-century or so after Capote wrote this one?
GULLI: To me, the reason short stories are so relevant today, the reason why short stories will always endure, is that a lot of times, that punchy message, that interesting plot, that turn of phrase can get lost in a long book. And, you know, to me, when I look at a lot of the books that I've read - and I've read many, many books because I'm an editor - at the end of the day, short stories have influenced my life more than novels because you could just go back, and you can remember a short story very well. And an author has to be very economic in what they write. Every sentence in an effective short story has to have an impact. And to me, that's just the wonder and the joy of short fiction.
DETROW: Well, there's another brand-new short story to read that's memorable as well - "Another Day In Paradise" by Truman Capote. It's published in the latest edition of The Strand. Andrew Gulli is the managing editor who initially found the story. Thanks so much for joining us.
GULLI: Thank you so much, Scott. Great to chat with you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.
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