Salinger, J.D. (Jerome David), 1919-2010

Alternative names
Dates:
Birth 1919-01-01
Death 2010-01-27
Americans
English

Biographical notes:

Jerome David Salinger is infamously reclusive, and there are few known facts about his life. He was born on January 1, 1919, to an upper-middle–class family in New York City. His Jewish father, Sol, worked as an importer of ham. His mother, Miriam (born Marie Jillich), was of Scotch-Irish descent. His one sister, Doris, is eight years his senior. As a child, Salinger attended schools near his home in Manhattan. In 1932 he was enrolled in the McBurney School, a private institution that he attended for one year before being dismissed for poor grades. He was then enrolled in Valley Forge Military Academy in Wayne, Pennsylvania, from which he graduated in 1936. He was social and active at Valley Forge, participating in clubs and school organizations and serving as editor of the school’s yearbook. He began writing short stories during his years at Valley Forge, and expressed interest in one day selling his work to Hollywood.

The years immediately following Salinger’s graduation are not well documented. He attended a summer session at New York University in 1937. He also lived briefly in Vienna and Poland to improve his German language skills and to learn about the ham importing business, in preparation to join his father in the trade. In the fall of 1938, Salinger enrolled in Ursinis College in Collegeville, Pennsylvania, but he quit school mid-year and returned to New York City. In 1939, he attended Whit Burnett’s short-story writing seminar at Columbia University. Salinger’s first published story, The Young Folks, appeared in Burnett’s magazine, Story, in 1940 when Salinger was just twenty-one years old.

In 1942, Salinger was drafted into the U.S. Army during World War II. He participated in five European campaigns during the war, including the D-Day invasion of Normandy, before being discharged in 1945. While in Europe, he met and married a French doctor named Sylvia. They divorced in 1946.

Salinger continued to write and publish stories during the war and in the two decades following. On December 22, 1945, the first story to feature his most famous character, Holden Caulfield, was published in Collier’s . Scenes from the story, called I’m Crazy, were later incorporated into Salinger’s novel The Catcher in the Rye . In 1946, Salinger’s story Slight Rebellion off Madison, another precursor to Catcher, was published in The New Yorker, beginning a long relationship between the author and the magazine. Between 1946 and 1965, thirteen of Salinger’s stories were published in The New Yorker .

Salinger’s early dream to have his work translated to film was realized in 1950 when the Samuel Goldwyn studios released the motion picture My Foolish Heart, based on Salinger’s story Uncle Wiggily in Connecticut. Despite Salinger’s interest in Hollywood, he was disappointed by the studio’s treatment of the story and has since refused to sell screen or television rights for any of his other works.

Salinger’s most celebrated work, his novel The Catcher in the Rye, was published in 1951 and quickly gained wide popular and critical interest. The novel, which explores Holden Caulfield’s difficulty coming to terms with the “phoniness” of the adult world, has been cherished by generations of adolescents and celebrated critically as one of the great postwar coming-of-age stories. The attention Salinger received from journalists and fans following the novel’s success, however, soon became unwanted and overwhelming to the author, prompting him to move from Westport, Connecticut, to a secluded home off a dirt road in the quiet town of Cornish, New Hampshire, where he still resides. He remained social during his first year in Cornish but has since withdrawn almost exclusively from public society.

Salinger followed Catcher with Nine Stories in 1953, collecting in one volume the early short stories he wished to preserve. From 1955 forward, the remainder of Salinger’s published works related to the fictional Glass family, whose central figure, Seymour, was first introduced in 1948 in A Perfect Day for Bananafish, which later became the opening of Nine Stories . The final stories of the Glass saga were published first in The New Yorker -- Franny and Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters in 1955, Zooey in 1957, and Seymour: An Introduction in 1959. These stories were later published in pairs in two books: Franny and Zooey in 1961 and Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters; and Seymour: An Introduction in 1963. The final segment of the Glass story and the last of Salinger’s published works, Hapworth 16, 1924, appeared in The New Yorker on June 19, 1965.

Few other details are known about Salinger’s life. In 1955, he married Claire Douglas, a London-born, Radcliffe graduate who had settled in Cornish. They had a daughter, Margaret Ann, in 1955, and a son, Matthew, in 1960 before they divorced in 1967. Salinger reportedly continues to write, but he remains publicly silent regarding his work, and he has declined all requests to publish new material.

From the guide to the J. D. (Jerome David) Salinger Collection, 1940-1974, undated, (The University of Texas at Austin, Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center)

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Subjects:

  • American literature--20th century
  • Authors, American--20th century

Occupations:

  • Novelists

Places:

  • Manhattan, NY, US
  • Cornish City, NH, US