The Life and Works of J.D. Salinger

J.D. Salinger was an American writer that was credited with writing several important books and stories in the mid-20th Century. However, his most famous, and controversial, was his book “Catcher in the Rye”.

Jerome David (J.D.) Salinger was born in Manhattan, NY on January 1, 1919. Living a modest life in New York, Salinger attended public schools in Manhattan, before transferring to the McBurnley School for 9th grade. 

At McBurnley, he was bitten by the drama bug, and began acting in some of the school’s plays, against his father’s wishes. In high school and attended a military school in Pennsylvania, where he began to write. After trying a couple of different colleges in the United States, as well as Austria, he enrolled in a nighttime writing class at Columbia University. It was during his time at Columbia that Salinger started to get noticed and in March 1940, Salinger’s first story was published in Story magazine.

However, his hoped writing career was delayed with the outbreak of World War II. Salinger was drafted into the Army and say duty in Europe. During his Army time, he arranged to meet Ernest Hemingway, which was the beginning of a friendship that lasted for many years. Hemingway was impressed by Salinger’s talent and encouraged the young writer to work on his craft.

After the War, Salinger returned to the United States and began to write stories. His first big break came in 1948 with the publication of a short story titled “A Perfect Day for Bananafish” in the New Yorker magazine. New Yorker magazine was so impressed by Salinger that they signed him to a contract which gave the magazine the right of first refusal on all his stories.

In the early 40’s Salinger began working on a novel featuring a character named Holden Caulfield, who was featured in one of his earlier short stories. The novel was published in July 1951, and featured the exploits of the 17 year old Caulfield as he made his way in New York City. Salinger later said that Caulfield’s character was based on his school experiences, and travels in New York City.

The novel received mixed reviews ranging from "an unusually brilliant first novel" by the New York Times to denigrations of the book's monotonous language and the "immorality and perversion" of Holden, through the use of questionable language and mentions of sex and prostitution. Despite mixed reviews, the novel was on the New York Times Bestseller List for over thirty weeks.

Over the course of time, “Catcher in the Rye” has been widely discussed among educators and critics. While the novel is one of the most respected depictions of the struggles of youth, the blue language and sexual references have made it a source of controversy, including having the book banned by several school districts.

Following the success of “Catcher in the Rye”, Salinger wrote several other novels and stories, which were well received, however, never reached the level of his first novel. He continued to write until the early 60’s when he retired from writing.

Salinger however, will always be remembered for his groundbreaking work with “Catcher in the Rye.” Salinger lived the last portion of his life quietly, until his death on January 27, 2010 at his home in New Hampshire.

To help remember the writing talent of J.D. Salinger, we have collected several resources about his life and work: