24 January (1965): Truman Capote to Perry Smith

During research for his non-fiction novel In Cold Blood, Truman Capote and Perry Smith, one of the murderers, developed an intimate friendship. In this letter, Capote writes to cheer Smith up and to offer his views on religion.


To Perry Smith

[Verbier, Switzerland]
January 24, 1965

Dear Perry—

            I’ve only just heard about the court’s denial. I’m very sorry about it. But remember, this isn’t the first set-back. Please send me [your lawyer, Robert] Bingham’s address, which I haven’t got here, and also his telephone number.

            Nelle is in the hospital, the result of a serious kitchen accident. She burned herself very badly, especially her right hand. It seems some sort of pan caught fire and exploded—all that at her home in Alabama.

            You ask about my religious beliefs. As a matter of fact, we did discuss this once but I guess you’ve forgotten. Anyway, I belong to no churches and am not a “Believer” in any formal sense. At one time I was very interested in Oriental religions, and felt, and still somewhat feel, that it might be possible for me to accept Buddhism, perhaps because it is really more a [unclear] than a religion.

            Only Catholicism can be taken seriously, with the sense that it gives adherents a personal sense of identity with [unclear] GOD, and offers genuine consolation when they fail to achieve it (by way of confessional). But as for me, I just go my way by myself.


Smith wrote “ditto” in the margin beside Capote’s endorsement of Buddhism. Beside Capote’s mention of Catholicism, Smith wrote, “Please read Philip Wylie’s ‘Night Unto Night’—the special chapter is Rebus Incognitis. It influenced me greatly in deciding spiritual matters. Please read it.”  Night Unto Night (1944) is a ghost story, with afterlife adventures. The author’s preface begins: “Here is a novel about death—a novel that is about the living & their thoughts of death.