For almost 40 years, the first words of Truman Capote's "In Cold Blood" have been most people's introduction to a town that seems wholly unremarkable on the surface. It seems an ordinary town for western Kansas-except for what's down a little dirt lane on the southwest edge of town. A day shy of 45 years ago, two released convicts made their way here and changed the town irrevocably
Roy Bird thinks all Kansans should read "In Cold Blood." It is, after all, one of the most famous books set in the Sunflower State.
"It raises important issues about the criminal justice system, capital punishment, public safety, small-town Kansas and all of our American values," says Bird, director of the Kansas Center for the Book.
That's why Bird's center chose the Truman Capote book for its second "Kansas Reads" program. (Last year's selection was "The Learning Tree" by Gordon Parks.)
The month-long, statewide effort focused on the book started Tuesday and runs through the end of February. Discussion groups, speakers, movie screenings and other activities are planning throughout Kansas.
"In Cold Blood" is about the murder of the Clutter family in Holcomb, and the search and eventual hangings of murderers Dick Hickock and Perry Smith.
Bird says "In Cold Blood" was a good choice for several reasons, including that it is considered the first nonfiction novel and "true crime" novel.
"In ways the book is like a novel, (and) in other ways it is like journalism," Bird says. "He captured some important truths about small towns and traditional American ideas."
The Lawrence Public Library has scheduled several events surrounding the "Kansas Reads" program. They include:
¢ A Capote film series, featuring screenings of "Breakfast at Tiffany's" (Feb. 8), "In Cold Blood" (Feb. 15), "The Grass Harp" (Feb. 22) and "Infamous" (Feb. 29) Each film begins at 7 p.m., and admission is free.
¢ A talk by Thomas Fox Averill, English professor at Washburn University, on "In Cold Blood." That event is at 7 p.m. Feb. 25.