Interview with Melanie Benjamin, Author of The Swans of Fifth Avenue
17 Mar 2016
The Swans of Fifth Avenue is about the unexpected and complicated friendship between Truman Capote and one of the most glamorous fashion icons of her day – and still today – Babe Paley. It’s set in Manhattan in the 50s and 60s, a very glamorous, gossipy time, but the novel also explores the very vulnerable hearts beating beneath the designer gowns and tuxedos. Truman and Babe—and all the other Swans—were devoted to each other. Until Truman stole their stories and secrets, and betrayed them all in a short story. The literary scandal that followed broke all those hearts and sent Truman on a downward spiral from which he never recovered.
What’s rocking your world this month?
I’m binge-watching all of the episodes of “Key & Peele” while on the treadmill. I laugh so hard, I nearly fall off!
You’re hosting a literary dinner party. Which three writers are invited?
Truman Capote, naturally! And Isak Dinesen. And Ernest Hemingway, because I simply can’t imagine Hemingway and Capote in a room together without someone taking a swing.
If you had an extra hour each day, how would you spend it?
Reading, of course.
What’s your favorite quote or scene from The Swans of Fifth Avenue?
I really love the quiet scene between Truman and his lover, Jack Dunphy. It’s a domestic little scene, the writer at home working, then cooking dinner with his partner, then going to bed. I think I love this because it’s so quiet and tender in the midst of so much glitter; it gives the reader a chance to catch her breath, and also it shows the serious side of Truman that few ever glimpsed. It’s also a scene of the writer at work, which I naturally identified with.
Do you have a motto, quote or philosophy you live by?
Don’t look back. I only look forward. It’s kind of a pathological thing, to tell the truth. My husband is the one always keeping things—reviews, clippings, memories—because I would throw them all out. I don’t like to dwell on the past at all. I think this has served me well, though, in my career.
Melanie Benjamin is the author of the new book The Swans of Fifth Avenue.
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