Creative Commons AttributionRye - Credit: Jenny Downing

Jerome David (J.D.) Salinger (1919-2010) was as well known for being a recluse as for his most famous novel, The Catcher in the Rye (1951).  He did not publish after 1965, and gave no further interviews after 1980.  He lived in New Hampshire, writing - according to those who had been close to him - but only for himself.

New York Times topic page on J.D. Salinger, with biography and related links.

New York Times, July 16, 1951 Original review

Succinct, comic-book version of The Catcher in the Rye.

Heartfelt fan site of the book.

Salinger grew up in Manhattan, attending public schools on the Upper West Side and then a private school.  He also attended Valley Forge Military Academy in Pennsylvania (reflected in his musings on the particular pathologies of all-boy private schools in The Catcher in the Rye).  He wrote fiction from an early age, though struggled for some years to get published.

Salinger served in the U.S. military in World War II, and was involved in one of the worst battles of D-Day on Utah Beach.  He is reported to have been a courageous soldier, but he was scarred by his wartime experiences.  He was hospitalized with battle fatigue for a short time after the war ended (D.B., Holden's older brother, fought in the war, and refuses to talk about it.  Holden tells us he spent long hours laying on his bed, smoking, when he returned).

During the war, Salinger met his German first wife, who came back to the U.S. with him.  The marriage only lasted eight months, and she returned to Germany.  Salinger refused to speak to her for the rest of his life.  In the post-war years he began to publish, mostly short stories, and mostly in The New Yorker (after "A Perfect Day for Bananafish",  The New Yorker set up a contract with the right of first refusal on future stories).  

When The Catcher in the Rye was published, it was an instant hit, reprinted eight times within two months of its publication.  It was also instantly controversial, for its loose language, profanity, condemnation of religion and open treatment of adolescent sexuality.  It became one of the most frequently taught and frequently banned books in the U.S.

The notoriety that surrounded The Catcher in the Rye drew Salinger to an increasingly reclusive life.  He published a short story collection in 1953 ( Nine Stories), and a novella and short story in 1961 (Franny and Zooey).    His last published work was a novella , Hapworth 16, 1924, which appeared in The New Yorker in full in 1965.

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In his private life, Salinger had a series of relationships with women much younger than himself.  His second wife, Claire Douglas, was a college student just shy of graduation when they married in 1955.  She and Salinger had two children, Margaret (b. 1955) and Matthew (b. 1961).  Feeling increasingly trapped and isolated by Salinger's reclusiveness, Claire left him in 1966.  They divorced in 1967.  

At the age of 53, Salinger embarked on a year-long relationship with 18-year-old Joyce Maynard, whom he met after writing to her about the perils of fame (an article she had written for The New York Times, An 18-Year-Old Looks Back on Life, had catapulted her into sudden celebrity).   He was married to Colleen O'Neill, fifty years younger, from the late 1980s until his death in January 2010. 

Salinger's insistence on privacy led to several lawsuits against people close to him - including Joyce Maynard, who auctioned off their correspondence, and his own daughter, Margaret, who published a memoir (Dream Catcher). His final court battle came in the summer of 2009, when he acted to prevent a supposed sequel to The Catcher in the Rye (60 Years Later: Coming Through the Rye) from being published.