Tennessee Williams on Truman Capote: The Fantasy of Affirmation

Truman Capote/Richard Avedon/1955

Interview with Tennessee Williams 
Conducted by James Grissom
Via Telephone

All of us wanted to be noticed. All of us. The fantasy of affirmation begins when you're the teased queer on schoolyards and in classrooms. One day, you tell yourself, as well as the backs of the heads that have just cursed you, I'll be famous and powerful and beloved, and you will regret the time you might have spent with me when you had the chance.

This is, of course, a fantasy. No one who hated me for the sickly queer I was gives a damn about the theatre or those who craft it or care for it. They might have cared to meet some stars I worked with, but my new fantasy was getting back to the blank page and justifying my existence. The new fantasy is that audiences and critics that have cursed you will come back and regret the times they belittled you. These are the fantasies that keep us going and that keep us dying.

Truman [Capote] wanted more than any of us, I think, to be famous and loved and envied. He wanted to be loved and envied not for what he was and what he had done: He was a wonderful writer, and he had extraordinary friendships. Nothing was enough. It was not enough that he had been a good friend to many of us on many occasions--he had to be a good friend to Greta Garbo and Albert Camus and James Dean and Jesus and anyone else who had newsprint that day.

Love was press. Love was attention. Love was demand.

I think love is work, work done well. That love is amplified when others find some worth in it, some surcease. I hate to be dismissed, but I have no greater sense of self-love when I am praised for my work. The work holds for me the greatest weight in offering an opinion of me. If the work approves of me, then I'm okay.

Truman was magical and sweet and ferociously curious when I first knew him. Life was a wonderful basket of gifts he loved digging through, and he took and he shared. He was adorable. But life presented fewer and smaller baskets, and he clutched them to his chest and hissed at those who might want a small token.

You can, of course, choke to death on the pursuit of love and attention. You can just wear out.

©  2019  James Grissom


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