J.D. Salinger Biography


Career Highlights

Salinger published seven stories in the New Yorker between 1946 and 1951, developing a first rejection rights association (meaning the magazine had the first chance at publishing, or rejecting, his work) with the premiere magazine for serious writers. In 1948, "A Perfect Day for Bananafish" introduced Seymour Glass, perhaps the core character of the Glass stories and a figure whom some consider to be nearly as important as Holden in Salinger's work. Esteemed Salinger critic Warren French considers the story to be one of the more significant in American fiction World War II.

The Success of The Catcher in the Rye

After a gestation period of ten years, The Catcher in the Rye was published on July 16, 1951, changing American fiction and J.D. Salinger's life. As French points out, Salinger was "unprepared for the kind of cult success" brought by the novel. The author progressively became one of the most famous of literary recluses, moving to Cornish, New Hampshire, in 1953 and rarely granting interviews or making public appearances. He found fame abhorrent and literary criticism distasteful.

When Ian Hamilton attempted an unauthorized biography of J.D. Salinger in the 1980s, Salinger successfully protested the use of letters that he had written to friends and editors between 1939 and 1961. He claimed infringement of copyright and invasion of privacy even though the letters had been donated to libraries and were available for study. A Federal Appeals Court denied use of even short quotations or paraphrases from the letters. Salinger was granted legal injunctions against publication of Hamilton's book; these were upheld when the United States Supreme Court refused to review the verdicts of two lower federal courts that held in favor of Salinger. The decision was considered extraordinary. According to David Margolic, legal affairs writer for the New York Times, this was "the first time in American memory that a book had been enjoined prior to publication, and it sent shock waves throughout the academic and publishing communities" (November 1, 1987).

Short Stories

For a time, Salinger continued to publish. His short story "Franny" appeared in the January 29, 1955, issue of the New Yorker. Franny is the youngest of the Glass daughters. She is confused by her desire for a spiritual relationship and her physical, sexual involvement with a crude boyfriend. The May 4, 1957, New Yorker carried a companion piece, "Zooey," in which Franny's older brother guides her while discovering his own spiritual awareness. "Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters" (1955) is Buddy Glass's recollection of Seymour's scheduled wedding and the reactions of the guests when the groom failed to attend. "Seymour: An Introduction" (1959) offers Buddy's attempt to explain Seymour to the general reader.

"Hapworth 16, 1924" (in the New Yorker on June 19, 1965) was Salinger's last publication for many years. In early 1997, however, Salinger's representatives announced that Orchises Press in Alexandria, Virginia, would publish this novella in book form. The story consists of a long letter from Seymour Glass to his family, concerning his experiences at summer camp at the age of seven.

In 1998, Joyce Maynard published a memoir (At Home in the World) recalling her 1972 affair, at the age of 18, with J.D. Salinger. Along with numerous bizarre details, she reports that the author had two completed, unpublished novels kept in a vault.

Published Works

In addition to The Catcher in the Rye (1951), Salinger has published, in book form, a well-received collection, Nine Stories (1953); Franny and Zooey (1961) as companion pieces; and two related Glass stories, Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters, and Seymour: An Introduction (1963). An unauthorized edition, The Complete Uncollected Short Stories of J.D. Salinger, appeared in two volumes between 1967 and 1974.

In 1950, Samuel Goldwyn Studio released a motion picture, My Foolish Heart, based on "Uncle Wiggily in Connecticut" (published in the New Yorker in 1948). Although the film received generally favorable reviews, Salinger reportedly was so upset by the distortion of his theme that he vowed never to allow Hollywood to get hold of another piece of his work.

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