In Cold Blood as influential creative nonfiction and the applicability of nonfiction in critical writing instruction
The publication in 1965 of Truman Capote's In Cold Blood re-familiarized America with the brutal slayings of a prominent rural Kansas farm family in November 1959. Since 1965, Capote's account of the murder of the Herbert Clutter family, its investigation, and the arrest, trial, conviction, and execution of two ex-convicts for the killings has been the focus of much critical examination. The author's blending of journalistic and novelistic writing styles in the book, along with his claim that it created a new genre, "the non-fiction novel," has prompted criticism from the worlds of both fiction and journalistic writing. This examination of In Cold Blood discusses Capote's blending of fiction-writing and journalism and how through its blend of different genres of written discourse, it not only attracted the public's attention--but serves as an effective pedagogical tool to examine rhetorical technique both singly and in comparison with other media formats. Its choice of subject matter, real-life brutal murders made more shocking by their locale and unlikely victims, and Capote's blend of techniques from both fiction-writing and journalism are enough in themselves to hold students' interest, even 50 years after the fact. However, students' subsequent critical examination of this text as well as of the story's recounting in other mediums adds the dimension necessary to transcend its status as just an entertaining literary work. Its applicability in implementing multiple literacies in the teaching of rhetorical analysis in post-secondary composition is demonstrated through an account of actual implementation in a freshman composition course at Iowa State University. The results demonstrate new and exciting pedagogical uses of Capote's nonfiction novel and similar works and that examination of such techniques helps students become more discerning consumers of a variety of discourse.