Truman Capote? Apocryphal?
Dear Quote Investigator: The authors of The Beat Generation were an influential disaffected group whose works jolted the culture of 1950s America. The spontaneous prose technique employed by the central figure Jack Kerouac in the composition of his 1957 novel “On the Road” was acclaimed and disparaged. The most trenchant criticism reportedly was delivered by author Truman Capote:
That’s not writing, that’s typing
Did Capote really say this? What were the circumstances?
Quote Investigator: The phrasing of this censorious expression was variable. Truman Capote used distinct versions in 1957 and 1959. In 1957 he criticized the author Colin Wilson together with other writers whose literary style he deemed deficient. In 1959 he attacked Jack Kerouac and other Beat-Generation authors.
The earliest evidence known to QI appeared in an interview with Capote published in the Spring-Summer 1957 issue of “The Paris Review”. 1 The topic was writing style, and Capote responded by passing judgment on several of his fellow authors; he placed them into disjoint idiosyncratic categories: the stylist, the styleless stylist, and the nonstylist. The last category was censured. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 2
But yes, there is such an animal as a nonstylist. Only they’re not writers. They’re typists. Sweaty typists blacking up pounds of Bond with formless, eyeless, earless messages.
The instance above differed from the popular modern instances by employing the forms “writers” and “typists” instead of “writing” and “typing’. Capote was criticizing a group of authors, but only one was named during the interview:
Colin Wilson? Another typist.
Great thanks to Terry Teachout who located the above citation and shared it with QI on Twitter.
Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.
- Spring-Summer 1957, The Paris Review, Number 16, Truman Capote, The Art of Fiction No. 17, Interviewed by Pati Hill, Paris Review, Inc., Flushing, New York. (Online archive of The Paris Review at theparisreview.org; accessed March 27, 2016) link ↩
- Spring-Summer 1957, The Paris Review, Number 16, Truman Capote, The Art of Fiction No. 17, Interviewed by Pati Hill, Start Page 35, Quote Page 47, Paris Review, Inc., Flushing, New York. (The online text at theparisreview.org differs slightly from the microfilm text: The word “bond” is capitalized in the microfilm text)(Verified on microfilm) ↩