True Crime

In Cold Blood, Capote’s “nonfiction novel,” as he termed it, is a major forerunner of one of the most popular and impactful genres of American nonfiction: true crime. Though there are plenty of true crime novels that predate In Cold Blood, none so gripped the American imagination as Capote’s masterpiece. The book remains one of the bestselling true crime novels of all time, and in many ways it changed the conventions of crime writing. Capote elevated the story of the Clutter murders, eschewing straightforward journalism for a level of craft, plotting, characterization, and figurative language that rivals the novels of his contemporaries. In the decades since its publication, the true crime genre has exploded in popularity. Following in Capote’s footsteps, top true crime writers like Vincent Bugliosi, David Grann, Erik Larson, and Michelle McNamara have written bestsellers about a variety of crimes, from the Manson family murders to the serial Osage Nation and World Fair killings to the atrocities committed by the Golden State Killer.

New Journalism

Capote was not alone in experimenting with new forms of nonfiction, and along with writers like Tom Wolfe, he was a foundational practitioner of the New Journalism movement. New Journalism is a style of news writing and journalism that moved away from straightforward, objective reportage and centered a more subjective perspective. Just as Capote spent many years researching the facts of the Clutter murder from multiple perspectives, New Journalism writers often immersed themselves entirely in their subjects. And just as Capote often veers from a straightforward recitation of facts into more literary, emotive, and impactful language, other New Journalism writers also leveraged the conventions of fiction to render their subjective experiences of their subject matter. Wolfe defined the term’s current usage in his seminal The New Journalism anthology, published in 1973, which featured works by Capote, Joan Didion, Hunter S. Thompson, Norman Mailer, and others. In Cold Blood was one of the first long-form New Journalism works to receive widespread acclaim, and though the term has fallen out of fashion, Capote is still seen as a model for how to elevate nonfiction to the level of literature.

Find out about other important “nonfiction novels” on SparkNotes.