Truman Capote’s Writing Advice for Alvin Dewey III


Bridgehampton, N.Y. 4 July, 1964

Dear Dewey,

I enjoyed your letter very much. To answer a few of your questions: yes, Holly was a real girl– but the incidents described in the story, or at least most of them, are fictional. I often use “real” people in my work, and then create a story around them. Most of the people in Nelle’s [Harper Lee] book are drawn from life. My story, “A Christmas Memory” is entirely autobiographical.

As for “Other Voices–” this is a very difficult book. First of all, it isn’t really a novel–but a long prose-poem. The “secret” of the book, the meaning (and it has one) lies in the last few pages. I don’t intend to tell you what it is, for someday you will see it for yourself. You do not yet know quite enough about life…

You must get into the habit of writing, even if it is only a paragraph a day. Try keeping a journal. One good exercise is to describe, in a page or two, some scene or person exactly as you see them: when I was your age I used to do this exercise religiously—it strengthens you, like piano practice. At this point, it is not necessary for you to attempt a whole short story. In any event write about what you know about.

… Have you read “Look Homeward, Angel” by Thomas Wolfe? I have many reservations about it, but definitely think you should read it. And of course you must read “The Catcher in the Rye”– though perhaps you have.

Show the enclosed clipping to your Mom and Pa.

All love to all


Collection New York Public Library, Too Brief a Treat The Letters of Truman Capote, Edited by Gerald Clarke, Random House, 2004.

Photograph by Jack Mitchell, 1980.