The June 1947 issue of Life Magazine contains an article called 'Young US Writers', a round-up of 11 promising post-war authors. Of the 11, three are well-known today; of this famous trio, one is still alive, the other two subjects of recently published biographies. The first page of the feature is dominated by a large photograph of a superbly arrogant Truman Capote - 22 years old, tiny, but potent. On the next page is a photograph (somewhat smaller) of Jean Stafford - 31 years old, severe, distant, possibly beautiful. On the very last page is a small shot of Gore Vidal, who at the preposterous age of 21 is the author of two novels. Vidal looks directly into the camera, sullen and contentious. John Chamberlain, who wrote the text, declares Stafford the 'most brilliant' of the lot. By this time she had published two novels; her career as a short-story writer was just getting under way. Unlike Capote and Vidal, Stafford never became a celebrity, and her reputation as a brilliant writer faded with the years; sadly, she is now remembered as much for having been Robert Lowell's first wife as for her novels and short stories. It is testimony to Capote's uncanny knack for self-promotion that at the time of the Life feature, he had produced only a handful of short stories: his first novel, Other Voices, Other Rooms, would not appear for another six months. And whereas Stafford, who wrote very little fiction during the last twenty years of her life, disappeared from public view, superseded by a younger generation of writers, Capote kept himself in the limelight until his death in 1984, long after his creative output had dwindled drastically.
LRB 5 January 1989 | PDF Download