According to a statement by the reclusive author’s son, J.D. Salinger has died of natural causes at the age of 91 in New Hampshire. Best known for his 1951 classic, The Catcher in the Rye, Salinger introduced a new, mercurial voice into American writing, and with it, a teenage anti-hero who would become a role model for generations of misanthropes to come.
Salinger withdrew from public life in the ’50s, rejecting fame and refusing interviews. In 1999, a series of old letters between Salinger and fellow writer/one-time flame Joyce Maynard (who was an 18-year-old Yale University freshman at the time), were bought on the auction block by Peter Norton. He returned them to Salinger.
Salinger suffered another privacy breach the following year, when his daughter Margaret published a rather disparaging memoir, Dream Catcher. From the New York Times:
Ms. Salinger said her father was pathologically self-centered, and that nothing could interrupt his work, which he likened to a quest for enlightenment. Ms. Salinger said her father was also abusive to his second wife and her mother, Claire Douglas, keeping her a virtual prisoner in his house in Cornish, N.H., refusing to allow her to see friends and family.
In the book she also claimed that her father “spoke in tongues, fasted until he turned greenish and as an older man had pen pal relationships with teenage girls.”
Salinger made headlines again in recent months when Swedish-American author Fredrik Colting penned an unauthorized sequel (of sorts) to Catcher. Salinger sued for copyright infringement, and a US court banned the publication of the book. Colting plans to appeal.
Below, listen to a segment from All Things Considered that examines the effect of Holden Caulfield on teenagers today. You can also check out all thirteen of the stories Salinger published in The New Yorker (pre-1965) here.