A New Exhibition Offers a Rare Glimpse Into Reclusive Author JD’s Salinger’s Life—See Highlights Here

The 'Catcher in the Rye' author's letters, photos, typewriters, and more will be on view at the New York Public Library.

J.D. Salinger at his writing desk in his home in Cornish, New Hampshire (1993). Photo courtesy of the the New York Public Library, Astor Lenox and Tilden Foundations, and the J.D. Salinger Trust.
JD Salinger at his writing desk in his home in Cornish, New Hampshire (1993). Photo courtesy of the the New York Public Library, Astor Lenox and Tilden Foundations, and the JD Salinger Trust.

The life and work of JD Salinger is the subject of an exhibition opening this week at the New York Public Library on what would have been the reclusive author’s 100th birthday.

More than 200 objects, including manuscripts and photos on loan from the JD Salinger Literary Trust, will be going on public view for the first time, at the very same library that Salinger visited as a boy. It is curated by the author’s son, Matt Salinger, as well as Colleen Salinger, the author’s widow, and Declan Kiely, the library’s director of special collections and exhibitions.

“When my father’s long-time publisher, Little, Brown and Company, first approached me with plans for his centennial year, my immediate reaction was that he would not like the attention,” said Matt Salinger in a statement. “He was a famously private man who shared his work with millions, but his life and non-published thoughts with less than a handful of people, including me.”

But the author’s son changed his mind in time for the centenary. “While I’ve long respected and honored (and zealously protected) his privacy, I also have come to see the value in sharing a direct and uninterpreted glimpse of his life with those readers who want it,” Matt Salinger said, noting that he hopes the show will encourage audiences to discover JD Salinger works beyond The Catcher in the Rye.

The author’s most famous book, published serially in 1945 and ’46 before becoming a novel in 1951, will nonetheless be in evidence at the show. The Catcher in the Rye‘s original typescript, showing Salinger’s changes, and the revised galley proofs, will be on view, as well as one of his two typewriters.

J.D. Salinger's Royal typewriter. Photo by Robert Cato, courtesy of the the New York Public Library, Astor Lenox and Tilden Foundations, and the J.D. Salinger Trust.

J.D. Salinger’s Royal typewriter. Photo by Robert Cato, courtesy of the the New York Public Library, Astor Lenox and Tilden Foundations, and the JD Salinger Trust.

On the personal side, there will be photographs of Salinger from his childhood, his job as a Caribbean cruise ship entertainment director, and his time serving in the Army during World War II. Also on view will be Salinger’s handwritten recipes, his passport, his honorable discharge papers from the service, and letters to and from friends and professional contacts, including fellow author Ernest Hemingway.

There’s one 1982 legal document in which Salinger described himself thusly:

I am a professional short-story writer and novelist. I write fiction and only fiction. For more than thirty years, I have lived and done my work in rural New Hampshire. I was married here and my two children were raised here. . . . I have been writing fiction rather passionately, singlemindedly, perhaps insatiably, since I was fifteen or so . . . I positively rejoice to imagine that, sooner or later, the finished product safely goes to the ideal private reader, alive or dead or yet unborn, male or female or possibly neither.

J.D. Salinger in Central Park. Photo courtesy of the the New York Public Library, Astor Lenox and Tilden Foundations, and the J.D. Salinger Trust.

J.D. Salinger in Central Park. Photo courtesy of the the New York Public Library, Astor Lenox, and Tilden Foundations, and the JD Salinger Trust.

“This exhibition presents Salinger in his own words,” Kiely said in a statement. “It provides fresh insight into his writing process, his views on the design and appearance of his books, his network of friendships with school and army buddies—some spanning over half a century—as well as with fellow authors and New Yorker magazine editors.”

“This exhibition allows us to see Salinger from childhood to old age, revealing many facets of the writer: friend, father, grandparent, soldier, correspondent, spiritual seeker and, importantly, avid and eclectic reader,” Kiely added.

See more photos from the exhibition below.

J.D. Salinger described himself in this addendum for affidavit, August 31, 1982. Courtesy of the the New York Public Library, Astor Lenox and Tilden Foundations, and the J.D. Salinger Trust

JD Salinger described himself in this addendum for affidavit, August 31, 1982. Courtesy of the the New York Public Library, Astor Lenox and Tilden Foundations, and the JD Salinger Trust.

J.D. Salinger on the deck of the M.S. Kungsholm (1941). Courtesy of the the New York Public Library, Astor Lenox and Tilden Foundations, and the J.D. Salinger Trust.

JD Salinger on the deck of the M.S. Kungsholm (1941). Photo courtesy of the the New York Public Library, Astor Lenox and Tilden Foundations, and the JD Salinger Trust.

Undated J.D. Salinger portrait by E. Michael Mitchell, who drew the cover of Catcher in the Rye. Courtesy of the the New York Public Library, Astor Lenox and Tilden Foundations, and the J.D. Salinger Trust.

Undated JD Salinger portrait by E. Michael Mitchell, who drew the cover of Catcher in the Rye. Courtesy of the the New York Public Library, Astor Lenox and Tilden Foundations, and the JD Salinger Trust.

J.D. Salinger with typewriter in Normandy, France (1944). Photo courtesy of the the New York Public Library, Astor Lenox and Tilden Foundations, and the J.D. Salinger Trust.

JD Salinger with typewriter in Normandy, France (1944). Photo courtesy of the the New York Public Library, Astor Lenox and Tilden Foundations, and the JD Salinger Trust.

JD Salinger” will be on view at the New York Public Library’s Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, 476 Fifth Avenue, New York, October 18, 2019–January 19, 2020.


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