To the untrained eye they were four notebooks, crammed with teenage jottings and corrections. At one stage they were left to the mercy of New York's rubbish collectors. But to book-lovers everywhere these scrawled pages are a vital find - the lost work of a giant of 20th-century American literature. Now Truman Capote's first ever book, Summer Crossing, is being published after 60 years spent in a dark chest.
Its appearance will provide valuable new insight into the development of his writing. Readers will find a young writer still struggling to find his voice, style and subject matter about 20 years before he found lasting fame with In Cold Blood, his account of the killing of a family in Kansas.
John Berendt, author of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil and an admirer of Capote, said: "I'm certainly intrigued to see if there is a germ of what came later. I'm not so sure he was using the same kind of narrative voice. Certainly the work which followed [Other Voices, Other Rooms, Capote's first published novel] was an absolutely wonderful, dazzling piece of work, although it was over the top, for sure."
Capote was only 19 when he began writing Summer Crossing in 1943. Then working as a copy-writer for The New Yorker magazine, he was fired for offending the eminent poet Robert Frost when he walked out of a reading.
The book is set in New York and revolves around Grady McNeil, a socialite who rebels against her privileged lifestyle. But by the time Capote abandoned his first novel he was, in fact, living with relatives in rural Alabama. Out walking one afternoon, he later recalled, his thoughts swept back to his childhood, sowing the seeds of a completely new book. That day, Summer Crossing disappeared into a drawer and he began work on Other Voices, Other Rooms, which was published in 1948.
The forgotten manuscript was assumed to have been lost, not least by Capote, who thought the notes had been destroyed. They only resurfaced last year, when they were put up for auction at Sotheby's in New York along with a bundle of papers that once belonged to the writer.
A former house-sitter had salvaged them after Capote quit his Brooklyn apartment in the mid-1960s and left many of his possessions outside with the rubbish. The house-sitter's relatives found them in a trunk, along with a draft of Other Voices, Other Rooms and a selection of letters.
Penguin Classics is to publish the book in Britain on 1 December. Adam Freudenheim, Penguin Classics' publisher, said it was an honour. "Fans of Capote's later work will immediately recognise his style and characterisation - and above all Summer Crossing is a terrific read," he said.
The publication comes at a time when interest in Capote is reviving. Cinema audiences will soon have a chance to watch a new film, Capote, based on his life when he was writing In Cold Blood. Philip Seymour Hoffman, who plays the writer, is being tipped as an Oscar nominee for his performance in the film.Reuse content