A Rare Glimpse Into the Life and Work of J.D. Salinger; celebrating the 100th anniversary of his birth

J. D. Salinger at his writing. Courtesy of The New York Public Library

“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.”



Addendum for affidavit, August 31, 1972 / Courtesy of The New York Public Library

The New York Public Library presents a rare glimpse into the life and work of author J.D. Salinger with an exhibition of manuscripts, letters, photographs, books, and personal effects drawn exclusively from the novelist’s archive. This will be the first time these items – on loan from the J.D. Salinger Literary Trust – have ever been shared with the public.

The exhibition, entitled simply J.D. Salinger, is organized by Salinger’s son Matt Salinger and widow Colleen Salinger with Declan Kiely, Director of Special Collections and Exhibitions at the Library.

The free exhibition coincides with the centennial of J.D. Salinger’s birth, and will be on display through January 19, 2020 in the Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III Gallery at the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building.

J.D. Salinger with typewriter in Normandy, France. 1944 / Courtesy of the New York Public Library

The exhibition will feature more than 200 items spanning Salinger’s life, including: 

  • The original typescript of The Catcher in the Rye, revised by the author, as well as the revised galley proofs of the novel
  • The original typescripts of some of Salinger’s shorter fiction, including Franny and Zooey
  • An original pencil portrait by E. Michael Mitchell, who made the original cover design for The Catcher in the Rye
  • Family photographs from J.D. Salinger’s childhood, youth, and later life, including photographs from his World War II service and his time as entertainment director on the cruise ship MS Kungsholm in 1941
  • Correspondence between J.D. Salinger’s friends, fellow soldiers, and authors and editors, including William Shawn, William Maxwell, and Ernest Hemingway 
  • A bookcase from his bedroom filled with books from his personal library
  • Items from his childhood, including a bowl he meticulously made at summer camp when he was about ten years old, which he kept his whole life
  • Notebooks, passports, honorable discharge papers from the army in which he identified his civilian occupation as “Playwright, Author,” and personal artifacts such as his pipes, eyeglasses and wrist watch 
  • One of the author’s two typewriters, his film projector, and numerous other personal effects


Generations of readers, including myself, have been captivated by the life-changing work of J.D. Salinger,” said New York Public Library President Anthony W. Marx. “As an institution that profoundly respects the cultural heritage of literature, works every day to spark a lifelong love of reading in our visitors, and encourages everyone to take a closer look at the world around them, The New York Public Library is excited and honored to present this unique look at the life of a writer who means so much to so many. We thank Matt Salinger for sharing a part of his father’s important story.”


Undated photograph of J.D. Salinger in Central Park. / Courtesy of the New York Public Library


“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. “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 I’ve learned that while he may have only fathered two children there are a great, great many readers out there who have their own rather profound relationships with him, through his work, and who have long wanted an opportunity to get to know him better. The Library has given us this opportunity, and while it is but a glimpse into my father’s life, it is my hope that lifting the veil a bit with this exhibition will throw some light on the man I knew and loved that will be welcomed by many. In short, 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, and who want to mark his 100th year in some personal way. The show may also help introduce his fiction (beyond The Catcher in the Rye) to some new readers, as I agree with him: that the best way to get to know an author is to read his or her work!”

J.D. Salinger on the deck of the M.S. Kungsholm, 1941 / Courtesy of the New York Public Library

“This exhibition presents Salinger in his own words,” said Declan Kiely, New York Public Library Director of Special Collections and Exhibitions. “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. Through his letters, photographs and personal possessions, 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—we shouldn’t forget that, in his youth, Salinger spent many hours reading at the New York Public Library and retained a lifelong affection for the Rose Main Reading Room. Many  of the objects on view in the exhibition are intensely poignant, most of them speak to a deep commitment to the life of the mind.”

Public Domain Photograph/Collage

This post is courtesy of the New York Public Library, Wikipedia, my bookshelf.

****

he Stephen A. Schwarzman Building of the New York Public Library, more widely known as the Main Branch or simply as “the New York Public Library” in May 2011. / Public Domain Photograph

The New York Public Library is a free provider of education and information for the people of New York and beyond. With ninety-two locations—including research and branch libraries—throughout the Bronx, Manhattan, and Staten Island, the Library offers free materials, computer access, classes, exhibitions, programming, and more to everyone from toddlers to scholars, and has seen record numbers of attendance and circulation in recent years. The New York Public Library serves nearly seventeen million patrons who come through its doors annually and millions more around the globe who use its resources at nypl.org. To offer this wide array of free programming, The New York Public Library relies on both public and private funding. Learn more about how to support the Library at nypl.org/support.


Jamie Dedes. I’m a freelance writer, poet, content editor, and blogger. I also manage The BeZine and its associated activities and The Poet by Day jamiededes.com, an info hub for writers meant to encourage good but lesser-known poets, women and minority poets, outsider artists, and artists just finding their voices in maturity. The Poet by Day is dedicated to supporting freedom of artistic expression and human rights.  Email thepoetbyday@gmail.com for permissions, commissions, or assignments.

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Recent and Upcoming in Digital Publications Poets Advocate for Peace, Justice, and Sustainability, How 100,000 Poets Are Fostering Peace, Justice, and Sustainability, YOPP! * The Damask Garden, In a Woman’s Voice, August 11, 2019 / This short story is dedicated to all refugees. That would be one in every 113 people. * Five poems, Spirit of Nature, Opa Anthology of Poetry, 2019 * From the Small Beginning, Entropy Magazine (Enclave, #Final Poems), July 2019 * Over His Morning Coffee, Front Porch Review, July 2019 * Three poems, Our Poetry Archive, September 2019


“Every pair of eyes facing you has probably experienced something you could not endure.”  Lucille Clifton

Ah, Yes! I remember it well … Atlantic Avenue, reading coffee grinds, and the French novelist and woman of letters, Colette

Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette (1873-1954)

“Sit down and put down everything that comes into your head and then you’re a writer. But an author is one who can judge his own stuff’s worth and, without pity, destroy most of it.” Collette, Casual Chance, 1964



I remember it well: my first encounter with Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette. Picture it.  Brooklyn. A Lebanese restaurant someplace on Atlantic Avenue, ambiance of the Middle East, redolent with fragrances of cinnamon and cardamom and the mouth-watering smell of lamb roasting.

It was 1958. We had just seen the movie, Gigi, starring Leslie Caron, which is based on Colette’s novella of the same name.  You might remember that in the early scenes Ms. Caron wore a wide-brimmed straw hat with a ribbon tied in a bow. The ribbon trailed gracefully down her back. I had such a hat and suffered the illusion that I looked just like Gigi in the film. This illusion was strongly supported by the fact that Gigi is my childhood nickname. In fact, from that day on and until her death, my mother would tell everyone  – as she did at the restaurant on this occasion – that I was Gigi before Gigi. I knew it wasn’t true. I’d read in the newspaper that there was a book written in 1944, which would predate me by six years. I was hungry to get my hands on it.

As the adults talked, I mentally replayed scenes from the movie and imagined a woman sitting at her desk writing the story that became the movie. I might have felt smart and pretty and even glamorous and certainly rather grown-up, but I would soon be relieved of my illusions. My mother allowed one of the restaurant patrons – an artist – to do a picture of me. Much to my dismay all he saw and drew was a scrawny olive-skinned kid with a rather gauche hat that sat too far back on her head. Nothing at all approaching the light, elegant, grown-up beauty of Ms. Caron. Then our supposed* distant cousin, Julia, the restaurant owner, worked her special magic.  She told fortunes by reading the sludge left in the cup after drinking Lebanese coffee. Julia would provide this service . . . “reading” coffee grounds . . . for her favorite (i.e., frequent) patrons.

*Note: Honestly, everyone we met from Lebanon was pronounced a cousin, so I’m skeptical.  Cousin in spirit and language, maybe. Blood cousin? Not so sure. 

At Julia’s my special treat was one cup of Lebanese coffee with my baklava. On this day, Mom let Julia do a reading for me. It had none of Julia’s usual romantic niceties: “You are like the sun and the moon. He is the sun that warms your heart. You are the moon that reflects his strength.” Or, “I see a key. Many doors will open for you. And, see there?  There are two bells entwined with a string.  There will be much love shared.”  There was to be no romance like the fictional Gigi’s for me. No. No.  For me there was: “See that, Gigi. Two books. You must keep up your studies. Therein is your happiness.” Maybe Julia did have something of a seer’s eye. I turned out to be better at reading books than reading men and I’m content with that.


“Then, bidding farewell to The Knick-Knack, I went to collect the few personal belongings which, at that time, I held to be invaluable: my cat, my resolve to travel, and my solitude.” Colette, Gigi, Julie de Carneilhan, and Chance Acquaintances: Three Short Novels


As for Sidone-Gabrielle Colette (a.k.a. Colette), the Nobel nominated (1948, Literature) French novelist, actress, and mime, this was my introduction and the beginning of my appreciation for her life and work.

Colette was a prodigious writer of many popular literary works. The Claudine stories were the first. For La Belle Époque, Colette’s writings were racy but – perhaps unfortunately – by today’s often jaded tastes, not so much.  While Colette’s life was too much on the wild side for me, I appreciate her courage and honesty and I do love her writing, so full of an appreciation for life and so rich in perfume, color, and humor, occasionally wry.


Publicity still of Colette for Rêve d’Égypte at the Moulin Rouge.

Quotable Colette

For the romantics among us:

“I am going away with him to an unknown country where I shall have no past and no name, and where I shall be born again with a new face and an untried heart.”


The story of Gigi is about a young Parisian who – in her family’s tradition – is being groomed for a career as courtesan. A handsome, wealthy, and well-placed young man is targeted by her grandmother (Mamita) and aunt for Gigi’s first relationship. For the movie version, the story is sanitized to get by the American censors. It was 1958 after all.


“You will do foolish things, but do them with enthusiasm.”


Colette’s life and work are honored in film, song and story by (among others) The Year I Read Colette (YouTube video) by singer-songwriter Roseanne Cash, The White Rose by Truman Capote (describes his first meeting with Colette), and the movies Colette and Becoming Colette. Les Vrilles de la vigne is number fifty-nine on Le Monde’s 100 Best Books of the [20th] Century. When Colette died, she was denied a religious burial by the Catholic Church because of her divorces but the French people justly honored her literary significance with a state funeral.

If you are reading this post from an email subscription, you’ll likely have to link through to the site to view these trailers from two movies about Colette.

© 2019, words, Jamie Dedes; photo credits – 1.) Colette’s photo, public domain, 2.) Rêve d’Égypte photograph copyright unknown (probably in public domain), 3.) the different types of Arabic coffees with the Hejazi / Najdi golden coffee seen on the left and the Levantine black “qahwah sādah” (plain coffee) on the right 

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ORWELL MATTERS, “A Little Poem” and … “Power is not a means. It’s an end.”

George Orwell (1903-1950), BBC Photograph in the public domain an curtesy of Penguin Books, India

George Orwell (1903-1950), BBC Photograph in the public domain, curtesy of Penguin Books, India

A LITTLE POEM

A happy vicar I might have been
Two hundred years ago
To preach upon eternal doom
And watch my walnuts grow;

But born, alas, in an evil time,
I missed that pleasant haven,
For the hair has grown on my upper lip
And the clergy are all clean-shaven.

And later still the times were good,
We were so easy to please,
We rocked our troubled thoughts to sleep
On the bosoms of the trees.

All ignorant we dared to own
The joys we now dissemble;
The greenfinch on the apple bough
Could make my enemies tremble.

But girl’s bellies and apricots,
Roach in a shaded stream,
Horses, ducks in flight at dawn,
All these are a dream.

It is forbidden to dream again;
We maim our joys or hide them:
Horses are made of chromium steel
And little fat men shall ride them.

I am the worm who never turned,
The eunuch without a harem;
Between the priest and the commissar
I walk like Eugene Aram;

And the commissar is telling my fortune
While the radio plays,
But the priest has promised an Austin Seven,
For Duggie always pays.

I dreamt I dwelt in marble halls,
And woke to find it true;
I wasn’t born for an age like this;
Was Smith? Was Jones? Were you?

– George Orwell


POWER IS NOT A MEANS. IT’S AN END.

The current state of affairs has many pulling 1984 and Animal Farm off their bookshelves, dusting them off and reading them again, probably for the first time since school days.

“Now I will tell you the answer to my question. It is this. The Party seeks power entirely for its own sake. We are not interested in the good of others; we are interested solely in power, pure power. What pure power means you will understand presently. We are different from the oligarchies of the past in that we know what we are doing. All the others, even those who resembled ourselves, were cowards and hypocrites. The German Nazis and the Russian Communists came very close to us in their methods, but they never had the courage to recognize their own motives. They pretended, perhaps they even believed, that they had seized power unwillingly and for a limited time, and that just around the corner there lay a paradise where human beings would be free and equal. We are not like that. We know that no one ever seizes power with the intention of relinquishing it. Power is not a means; it is an end. One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship. The object of persecution is persecution. The object of torture is torture. The object of power is power. Now you begin to understand me.” George Orwell, 1984


51fgdfc5bl-_sx315_bo1204203200_Eric Arthur Blair (pen name George Orwell) “was born in 1903 in Motihari, Bengal, in the then British colony of India, where his father, Richard, worked for the Opium Department of the Civil Service. His mother, Ida, brought him to England at the age of one. He did not see his father again until 1907, when Richard visited England for three months before leaving again until 1912. Eric had an older sister named Marjorie and a younger sister named Avril. With his characteristic humour, he would later describe his family’s background as “lower-upper-middle class.” MORE

STILL TIME to enter your collection for the University of North Texas Rilke Prize

Bohemian-Austrian Poet Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926)

Bohemian-Austrian Poet Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926)

“Perhaps all the dragons in our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us act, just once, with beauty and courage. Perhaps everything that frightens us is, in its deepest essence, something helpless that wants our love.” Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet

The deadline for submission of a book for this prize is November 30, 2016. This is an annual competition with “a $10,000 award recognizing a book that demonstrates exceptional artistry and vision written by a mid-career poet and published in the preceding year.” Details are HERE. This particular award is for books written in English only by citizens of the United States.

Let everything happen to you
Beauty and terror
Just keep going
No feeling is final
– Rainer Maria Rilke

Rilke’s photograph is in the public domain