Most Charismatic #9: Truman Capote

ALL-TIME AMERICAN WRITERS TOURNAMENT

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The 1950’s and 60’s saw the rise of the Television Author. That person called upon to be the Voice of Literature for the video-numbed masses on talk shows hosted by David Susskind, Johnny Carson, Dick Cavett and the like. Of course, the writer was supposed to behave like a celebrity– a character– and Truman Capote was very good at it. Here he is on the Tonight Show:

As you can see by the flaunting of Esquire Magazine, this was a time when literature and writers mattered.

Others such as Norman Mailer and Gore Vidal also embraced the spotlight, but Truman Capote edges them out in our assessment by being a more distinctive character, with a memorable persona and voice (immortalized in two recent movies, one starring Philip Seymour Hoffman). He was, if you will, a stronger, more recognizable brand. With his innovative non-fiction “novel,” In Cold Blood, Capote created a bigger, more noteworthy work. (Which Mailer tried to match, and failed to.)

Truman Capote then takes the #9 spot as a Charismatic American Writer.

NEXT: Also-Rans #3.
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Most Charismatic #10: Maya Angelou

ALL-TIME AMERICAN WRITERS TOURNAMENT

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Poets have long played the role of official or unofficial voice of the psyche of the American nation– calmer or critic, healer or scold– from Walt Whitman up to T.S. Eliot, Carl Sandberg, Robert Frost, maybe even Allen Ginsberg. In recent times that role was filled by Maya Angelou, exemplified by the reading of her poem, “On the Pulse of Morning,” at the 1993 Inauguration of William Jefferson Clinton as U.S. President.

Long a public figure, unafraid of controversy, Angelou carried a powerful presence matched with a compelling voice. In an era of unexciting literary figures, Maya Angelou stood out– why she’s been chosen as #10 on the Most Charismatic American Writers list.

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NEXT: Most Charismatic Writer #9.
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Most Charismatic #11: Ayn Rand

ALL-TIME AMERICAN WRITERS TOURNAMENT

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Ayn Rand? How did Ayn Rand make the Most Charismatic list?

First, her novels spark with energy and charisma, with larger-than-life characters and dramatic happenings.

Ms. Rand herself– a rather short and squat Russian emigre with a thick accent– could never live up to creations like Dominque Francon and Dagny Taggart. Though she tried.

Her ideas and persona, however, were so strong a cult of acolytes grew up around her. Ayn Rand created her own intellectual scene, herself at the center of it, complete with cigarette holder, cape, and piercing eyes.

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Not enough for the top-ten all-time Most Charismatic American Writers— but enough to be listed right outside, at #11.

NEXT: Most Charismatic Writer #10!
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Also Rans #2: Edgar Allan Poe

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Edgar Allan Poe almost made the Most Charismatic list for two reasons.

1.)  His fiction remains powerful, recognizable, unique. A few of his poems (“El Dorado”; “The Raven”) are standards.

2.)  His image has become iconic.

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Almost made the list, but didn’t.

NEXT: Most Charismatic American Writer #11
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Most Charismatic #12: Allen Ginsberg

ALL-TIME AMERICAN WRITERS TOURNAMENT

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The poem “Howl” dropped like a bomb on the literary world of the 1950’s.

Peyote solidities of halls, backyard green tree cemetery dawns,
   wine drunkenness over the rooftops, storefront boroughs of
   teahead joyride neon blinking traffic light, sun and moon and
   tree vibrations in the roaring winter dusks of Brooklyn, ashcan
   rantings and kind king light of mind,

It was a golden age of poets and poetry, dominated by names like Eliot, Frost, Sandburg, Rexroth, Berryman– not to mention a visitor from overseas, Dylan Thomas. But no one had seen anything quite like Beat poetry before.

What made the lot of them stand out was their sense of style. A unique look and way of acting and talking which inspired the derogatory term “beatniks.”

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For the first and only time in American history, poets– literary people– led the culture.

Allen Ginsberg stood at their epicenter. The debut of “Howl” in 1955 before 100 people at Six Gallery in San Francisco is one of the historic events of American literary history.

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Allen Ginsberg is #12 on the list of Most Charismatic American Writers.

NEXT: Also Rans #2
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Also Rans #1: The Literary Brat Pack

MOST CHARISMATIC AMERICAN WRITERS–

part of–

THE ALL-TIME AMERICAN WRITERS TOURNAMENT

johnSimonePhotography_jayMcInery_tamaJanowitz_bretEastonEllis_img(Photo: John Simone.)

Call them What Might’ve Beens. In the 1980’s a trio of literary stars, the creation of Paris Review icon George Plimpton and other New Yorkers, seemed ready to conquer the literary landscape and become larger-than-life cultural celebrities. Each had written a Big Hit book.

Jay McInerney had Bright Lights, Big City.

Tama Janowitz, Slaves of New York.

Bret Easton Ellis made a splash with Less Than Zero.

Yet their follow-ups were tepid at best. Opportunity passed. Their stars faded. They’re still out there, writing and publishing books. Ellis for one struggles mightily to regain attention, but the spotlight has moved on.

NEXT: Most Charismatic Writer #12.
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Most Charismatic #13: Gore Vidal

ALL-TIME AMERICAN WRITERS TOURNAMENT

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WHY are we doing this series about charismatic writers? To show that, at one time in this society, creative writers mattered. They were at the epicenter of society’s debates. One of those figures was Gore Vidal.

An intelligent and glib rich kid from a well-connected family of politicians, Vidal was raised to believe he could be President. Instead he became a novelist and essayist. A competent novelist. A brilliant essayist. At that time– the 1950’s and 60’s– in the wake of Hemingway and other literary giants, “novelist” was one of the most prestigious and valued roles a young man could aspire to. Right after President. The new television age pushed the most articulate and photogenic writers into the media spotlight– Gore Vidal among them.

We’ve made him #13 on our list of Charismatic American Writers.. Here’s his most famous appearance– his argument with William F. Buckley (himself a writer and editor) on national TV during the 1968 Democratic National Convention.

NEXT: Also Rans #1
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