December 5, 2016
Small-town Monroeville, Alabama turned out in great numbers in November to welcome New York Times Bestselling Author Melanie Benjamin, whose historical fiction novel The Swans of Fifth Avenue, recreates the glory of Truman Capote’s Black and White Ball and his love affair with Babe Paley and his society swans.
Benjamin was the guest of honor at Capote & Cocktails, a joint fundraiser for the Monroe County Public Library and Monroeville Main Street, a grass-roots nonprofit seeking to revitalize its rural downtown by celebrating all of the famous writers who called Monroe County, Alabama home: Harper Lee, Truman Capote, Marva Collins, Mark Childress, Hank Williams, Mike Stewart, Rheta Grimsley Johnson, Riley Kelly, and Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Cynthia Tucker.
Monroeville has long been celebrated as the birthplace of Harper Lee, the To Kill A Mockingbird author who spent much of her life avoiding publicity. However, her childhood friend, Truman Capote, who grew up with maiden aunts next door to the Lee family, is often remembered more for seeking the spotlight with his late life late-night antics than for producing the voluminous body of work that includes short stories, novels, plays, screen adaptions, the iconic Breakfast at Tiffany’s, and his landmark nonfiction novel, In Cold Blood.
Benjamin’s novel is nothing if not timely. Even as the newly proposed Harper Lee Trail begins to take shape in Monroeville, one is reminded of the writer next door to Lee: a young Truman who sent off his stories and cooked up costume parties sure to be the talk of the town. Just weeks prior to Monroeville’s celebration, Capote was posthumously inducted into the Alabama Writers Hall of Fame, established by the Alabama Writers Forum and the Alabama Center for the Book to honor the state’s best literary artists, and his handwritten invitation lists and other plans for the Black and White ball were featured in a themed exhibit and gala at the New York Public Library.
Anne Marie Bryan, director of Monroeville Main Street, spearheaded the Black and White themed fundraiser and a free public humanities panel the next day Celebrating the Party of the Century: Capote's Childhood Hometown Pays Tribute, featuring Benjamin, Springhill College Professor Emeritus of English John Hafner, PhD, and Alabama author Marlin Barton, who received the 2015 inaugural Truman Capote Prize for Short Fiction.
“Monroeville loves Ms. Lee, but we want to expand that focus to all of our authors with local connections. As In Cold Blood celebrates its 50th anniversary, Capote’s writings are being rediscovered. His narrative voice, especially in his early short stories, was lyrical, descriptive, witty, and authentic. The love he had for his Aunt Sook is so beautifully portrayed in A Christmas Memory, for example in this passage:
When it comes time for making each other's gift, my friend and I separate to work secretly. I would like to buy her a pearl handled knife, a radio, a whole pound of chocolate covered cherries (we tasted some once, and she always swears: "I could live on them, Buddy, Lord yes I could -- and that's not taking His name in vain."
Instead, I am building her a kite. She would like to give me a bicycle ... "If only I could, Buddy...."
Instead, I am fairly certain that she is building me a kite -- the same as last year, and the year before: the year before that we exchanged slingshots. All of which is fine by me. For we are champion kite fliers who study the wind like sailors; my friend, more accomplished than I, can get a kite aloft when there isn't enough breeze to carry clouds.
(On Christmas...) she says her favorite gift is the kite I built her. And it is very beautiful; though not as beautiful as the one she made me, which is blue and scattered with gold and green Good Conduct stars; moreover, my name is painted on it, "Buddy".
"Buddy, the wind is blowing."
The wind is blowing, and nothing will do till we've run to a pasture below the house where Queenie has scooted to bury her bone. There, plunging through the healthy waist-high grass, we unreel our kites, feel them twitching at the string like sky fish as they swim into the wind. Satisfied, sun-warmed, we sprawl in the grass and peel Satsumas and watch our kites cavort ....
“We have selected a design for a large downtown mural by Grove Hill artist Jonna Bush featuring Buddy and Sook with their red and blue kites aloft in the Alabama countryside. Thanks to our sponsors and to our special guest Melanie Benjamin, who charmed our local audiences with her anecdotes about the Black and White Ball and her experiences researching Truman Capote, we raised more than $5,000 in one night. This is a crucial first step to bringing Capote back into the limelight he craved, and to celebrating his literary legacy.”
Anne Marie Bryan, Monroeville Main Street Director
86 North Alabama Avenue
Monroeville, Alabama 36460
251 743 2879
Ann Pridgen, Chair, Monroe County Public Library Board of Directors
121 Pineville Road
Monroeville, Alabama 36460
251 743 3818