Feud: Were James Baldwin and Truman Capote Friends?

Hulu’s ‘Feud: Capote vs the Swans’ brings to life the fallout between Truman Capote and the group of high society women he lovingly called his Swans. While the show recreates a real series of events, bringing out real details from the lives of Capote and his Swans, it does so through a lens of fiction where several things are either exaggerated for dramatic effect or are completely fabricated to push the plot in the right direction.

While the show keeps itself rooted in reality, the liberty that it takes with certain events is bound to make the viewers wonder whether what they’re seeing on the show is completely real or just an extension of a figment of truth. This particularly holds for the fifth episode, titled ‘The Secret Inner Lives of Swans,’ where Truman Capote meets James Baldwin. Did that meeting really happen? SPOILERS AHEAD

Feud Imagines James Baldwin and Truman Capote’s Friendship

The meeting between James Baldwin and Truman Capote in ‘Feud: Capote vs the Swans’ did not happen in real life, or at least, there is a good chance it didn’t. The fifth episode takes place in 1975. At this time, Capote is drowning in alcohol and is unable to move on from the fact that he has been ousted from the society he’d so grown to love. This is when he gets an unexpected call from James Baldwin, who is in New York for a few days and has carved out time for Capote to encourage him to come out of the pit of depression and not squander his talent by throwing alcohol on it.

The creators of ‘Feud’ have confirmed that the entire episode is born of their imagination and is not inspired by any real encounter between Capote and Baldwin. In fact, one could say that there was no love was lost between the two writers, who would often criticize each other’s writings, Capote more than Baldwin. At one point, Capote said that he loathed Baldwin’s fiction and called it “crudely written and of a balls-aching boredom.” As for Baldwin’s non-fiction writing, Capote said: “I do sometimes think his essays are at least intelligent, although they almost invariably end on a fakely hopeful, hymn-singing note.”

The feeling was mutual for Baldwin, but he was not as acerbic in his critique of Truman’s writing. He was known to have been kinder in his criticism, which is why perhaps the creators of ‘Feud’ considered him kind enough to meet Capote during his darkest period and try to get him out of it.

The reason that the meeting, as shown in ‘Feud,’ didn’t happen in real life is that around that time, Baldwin had firmly established a life for himself in Paris. He had left Harlem and America behind a few years ago, having refused to be treated unfairly due to the prevalent racism and homophobia at the time. By then, he had released some of his most groundbreaking works, but due to the fact that the country was rife with the things he hated, he decided to move away to France and lived in Saint-Paul de Vence.

While Baldwin did come back to the country time and again, it seems unlikely that he would be moved to meet Capote, especially considering that the writers were barely acquaintances and certainly not on as friendly terms as shown in the Hulu series. Still, there was an unspoken sense of camaraderie that even Capote showed once when he defended the work Baldwin had co-created. Still, it cannot be counted as something strong enough to bring Baldwin to try and get Capote to change his ways.

With all this in mind, it is clear that the creators of ‘Feud’ imagined the encounter. Baldwin was most probably brought into the scene considering the status he’d built for himself at the time and his being a part of the queer community, something that Capote felt alienated him from his Swans, who didn’t hold back from using derogatory remarks towards him. In that sense, someone like Baldwin would have felt a much closer friend to Capote, and that’s what the show focuses on.

Read More: Who Was Truman Capote’s Mother? How Did She Die?