Polaroids of Capote and Burroughs by Andy Warhol

On July 23rd, 1970, four years after publishing his novel In Cold Blood (which was considered the peak of his literary career), Truman Capote received a letter from fellow writer William Burroughs. At the time Burroughs was 56-years-old, to Capote's 46, and stated that he had been following the author through his literary development. Then he brought the hammer down:

"The early work was in some respects promising — I refer particularly to the short stories. You were granted an area for psychic development. It seemed for a while as if you would make good use of this grant. You choose instead to sell out a talent that is not yours to sell. You have written a dull unreadable book which could have been written by any staff writer on the New Yorker — (an undercover reactionary periodical dedicated to the interests of vested American wealth).

You have placed your services at the disposal of interests who are turning America into a police state by the simple device of deliberately fostering the conditions that give rise to criminality and then demanding increased police powers and the retention of capital punishment to deal with the situation they have created. You have betrayed and sold out the talent that was granted you by this department. That talent is now officially withdrawn.

Enjoy your dirty money. You will never have anything else. You will never write another sentence above the level of In Cold Blood. As a writer you are finished. Over and out. Are you tracking me? Know who I am? You know me, Truman. You have known me for a long time. This is my last visit."

This letter is in the Burroughs Archive of the New York Public Library’s Berg Collection, and is titled as an Open Letter from the one author to the other.

There is a lot more to the story than simple literary disdain or envy—Reality Studio has a fairly extensive background article on the problems the Beats had with Capote, and vice versa. Jack Kerouac wasn't a fan either—likely because in 1959 Capote went on television and spoke about On The Road, saying, "It isn’t writing at all — it’s typing." Capote would eventually say of Burroughs, “Norman Mailer thinks [he] is a genius, which I think is ludicrous beyond words. I don’t think William Burroughs has an ounce of talent.” [via Letters of Note]