Welcome to Typewriter Tuesday, a series from the American Writers Museum that aims to shed light on the typewriters and other tools behind some of your favorite works of literature. Check back every Tuesday to learn more about these trusty machines and the writers who used them. Our next special exhibit Tools of the Trade, opening June 2019, features more than a dozen typewriters on loan from Steve Soboroff’s impressive collection, as well as other writing implements and instruments used by American writers. Here we have Truman Capote’s 1961 Smith-Corona Electra 110.
“Writing has laws of perspective, of light and shade, just as painting does, or music. If you are born knowing them, fine. If not, learn them. Then rearrange the rules to suit yourself.”
Truman Capote always seemed to play by his own rules, both in terms of his writing and his life as a celebrity. Whether he was hanging out with Andy Warhol at Studio 54 or helping to solidify the genre of “nonfiction novel” with his classic In Cold Blood, Capote was on the cutting edge of the literary world and a prominent figure in the American social scene.
But Capote did have some strict rules for writing that he followed closely. These rules might at first glance seem like eccentric superstitions, but they no doubt helped Capote stay focused and establish a prolific writing career.
Capote always wrote lying down in his bed or on a couch, saying in a 1957 Paris Review interview, “I am a completely horizontal author. I can’t think unless I’m lying down.” This makes using a typewriter somewhat difficult — these are much more cumbersome than an iPad, after all. But Capote didn’t use a typewriter for early drafts, instead eschewing the technologically advanced tool for the more traditional pencil-on-paper method, which helped to slow him down.
“No I don’t use a typewriter. Not in the beginning. I write my first version in longhand (pencil). Then I do a complete revision, also in longhand. Essentially I think of myself as a stylist, and stylists can become notoriously obsessed with the placing of a comma, the weight of a semicolon. Obsessions of this sort, and the time I take over them, irritate me beyond endurance.”
But Capote was able to maintain that writing endurance by a specific — if somewhat alarming — combination of fuel sources beginning with cigarettes and coffee. “I’ve got to be puffing and sipping,” as he says in The Paris Review interview. “As the afternoon wears on, I shift from coffee to mint tea to sherry to martinis.”
Capote used this typewriter, a 1961 Smith-Corona Electra 110, in his later years and likely typed his last three novels on it, including Music for Chameleons. In an interview with KPCC’s Off-Ramp, collector Steve Soboroff shared that he bought this typewriter from Joanne Carson, Johnny Carson’s widow. Joanne was good friends with Capote and even maintained a writing room and bedroom in her Los Angeles home for when Capote was in town. This typewriter is now a part of Soboroff’s impressive collection and a testament to his belief in the lasting power of these machines.
“What the typewriter symbolizes now is timelessness, and also a slower, more thoughtful way of life. What is made these days that will be used 60, 70, 80, 100 years from now? I don’t think there’s anything, and these typewriters have hundreds of years to go.”-Steve Soboroff
Tools of the Trade will feature more than a dozen of Soboroff’s typewriters and more, and is sponsored in part by the Hugh M. Hefner Foundation. Additional sponsorship opportunities are also available for this exhibit. If you would like to support Tools of the Trade, and receive recognition and benefits in association with this exhibit, please contact Linda Dunlavy, Development Director at 312-374-8762 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.