oral transmission: motivation and memorization

Frances Pritchett fp7 at columbia.edu
Fri Jun 13 21:44:29 UTC 1997

On Tue, 10 Jun 1997, J Kingston Cowart wrote:

> While conducting research for his work  _In Cold Blood_, 
> Capote was prohibited by prison officials from taking notes or 
> making tape recordings of his extensive interviews with the killers 
> profiled in the book.  He nonetheless recounted long and detailed
> conversations with them in the published work.
> Not surprisingly, Capote was challenged by the press with respect
> to the accuracy of his reportage.  Expecting this, he issued a 
> challenge of his own.  He held a large press conference at which he
> provided members of the media with several copies of a New York 
> City borough white pages telephone book.  He then asked them to 
> open it to any page and begin with any name.
> Upon every instance he went on to recite the following ten names,
> along with the addresses and phone numbers listed with them.
> Knowing the restrictions under which he would be working, Capote 
> had trained his memory for the interviews by memorizing the
> entire phone book.
> Apparently, no one doubted the accuracy of his reported 
> conversations after that astonishing demonstration.
> Sincerely,
> J. Kingston Cowart
> San Diego, California
> <jkcowart at io-online.com>

The more I think about this, the more it sounds like a fascinating piece
of urban folklore.  Did it really happen?  If so, when exactly?  Was it
reported in the papers?  If anybody has seen solid evidence of this feat,
I would be grateful to have the reference.  Maybe other Indology people 
would be interested too, since it seems to put Truman Capote many notches
above the Vedic sages in memorization powers.  Just think of all the
metrical and other memorization helps they had, and he had... none (!) ...
And the sheer size and density of our NYC phone books... it boggles the
mind... Maybe Mr. Cowart can give us more information?

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