J.D. Salinger

by James Yount

One of my favorite authors, J.D. Salinger died earlier this year at the age of 91. Salinger had lived outside of the media spotlight in his Cornish, New Hampshire, home for several decades before losing his life to natural causes. Born in New York City, Salinger showed remarkable promise as an actor during his early high school career, but was discouraged from pursuing his interest in the arts by his father. After finishing his final two years of high school at the Valley Forge Military Academy, where he first began to write extensively in his spare time, Salinger enrolled at New York University. He dropped out of college at the end of his freshman year and briefly moved to Europe before returning to the United States and continuing his education at Ursinus College. Again, Salinger decided against formal higher education and instead took evening writing courses at Columbia University. He subsequently published his first short story, The Young Folks, in 1940. Over the next few years, Salinger worked odd jobs and continued writing, unsuccessfully submitting a number of stories to The New Yorker. When the United States entered World War II, Salinger was drafted into the Army, where he befriended Ernest Hemingway, who was already a wildly popular author. During the war, he primarily worked with counter-intelligence divisions as an interrogator. Although none of his later stories dealt directly with the war, its influence on them is often highly apparent. Salinger’s major break came in 1948 when The New Yorker accepted “A Perfect Day for Bananafish” for publication and offered him a contract for the right of first refusal on his future stories. As a result, almost all of Salinger’s work was first published in The New Yorker. “A Perfect Day for Bananafish” introduces the Glass family, who became the central focus of most of Salinger’s published work. The Catcher in the Rye, likely Salinger’s most popular work, was published in 1951. The semi-autobiographical novel follows the exploits of 16-year-old Holden Caulfield after he is expelled from an exclusive New England boarding school. Two years later, Salinger published Nine Stories, which featured seven works from The New York and two previously unpublished stories. In the 1960s, Salinger published Franny and Zooey, Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters, and Seymour: An Introduction, all of which revolved around the Glass family. Although these novellas were his last published work, Salinger apparently wrote extensively during his years of isolation in New Hampshire. His death is certainly a terrible loss for American literature, but hopes remain high that a great deal of his unpublished work will soon be found in bookstores around the nation.

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