Biography of J.D. Salinger

Born in New York City on the first day of 1919, J.D. Salinger is the son of a Jewish father and a Christian mother. After brief periods of enrollment at both NYU and Columbia University, Salinger devoted himself entirely to writing, and by 1940 he had published several short stories in periodicals. Although his career as a writer was interrupted by World War II, Salinger returned from service in 1946 and resumed his career, writing primarily for The New Yorker. Some of his most notable stories include his first story for The New Yorker, "A Perfect Day for Bananafish" (1948), which tells of the suicide of a despairing war veteran, and "For Esmé--With Love and Squalor" (1950), which describes a U.S. soldier's encounter with two British children. Salinger has published a total of thirty-five short stories in various publications, including many in The Saturday Evening Post, Story, and Colliers between 1940 and 1948, and in The New Yorker from 1948 to 1965.

Salinger has continually enjoyed major critical and popular acclaim with The Catcher in the Rye (1951), the story of Holden Caulfield, a rebellious boarding-school student who attempts to run away from the adult world that he finds "phony." In many ways reminiscent of Mark Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Salinger's only novel finds great sympathy for its wayward child protagonist. It drew from characters he had created in two short stories published in 1945 and 1946, "This Sandwich Has No Mayonnaise" and "I'm Crazy." The latter story is an alternate take on several of the chapters in The Catcher in the Rye.

Salinger was also very interested in Zen Buddhism, Hindu-Buddhism, and other Eastern beliefs. He drew increasingly from these traditions for his own work. Traces of Buddhism can be found throughout Nine Stories, for example, particularly in the book's closing story, "Teddy." Salinger also was a devoted student of The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna, an important work of Hindu mysticism, translated by Joseph Campbell and Swami Nikhilananda.

Salinger followed The Catcher in the Rye with Nine Stories (1953), a selection of his best short stories, and Franny and Zooey (1961), which draws from two earlier stories in The New Yorker. In 1963 he published several of his short stories as a novel, Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters. He also published Seymour: An Introduction. His relatively small literary output and reclusive habits since that time have made Salinger the subject of great notoriety.

Starting in 1953, Salinger resided in Cornish, New Hampshire, and claimed that he continued to write. As details about Salinger were notoriously vague because of his reclusiveness, he became the subject of much speculation. He refused to give interviews or to deal with the press. Personal information about Salinger was therefore limited but in great demand. Letters written by Salinger to a young woman with whom he had had an affair gained a $156,000 auction price at Sotheby's. In these letters, written in 1972, Salinger writes to Joyce Maynard, then an eighteen-year-old student at Yale, who later left college to live with Salinger for nine months. These letters trace his growing attachment to Maynard and deal with the necessity of guarding and protecting the writer's source of creativity from the glare of the outside world. Maynard later became a published writer herself, publishing the comic novel To Die For and, in a controversial move, publishing a memoir concerning her relationship with Salinger. In her memoir, Maynard implied that Salinger's demand for privacy stemmed from his awareness that his private activities, including several relationships with young women like Maynard, would ultimately mar his reputation.

J.D. Salinger passed away on January 27th, 2010.

Study Guides on Works by J.D. Salinger

Nine Stories, published in 1953, is a collection of Salinger’s short stories, and is considered one of the finest short-story collections in the English language. Taking his cues from such masters of the medium as Guy de Maupassant and James...