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The Life of J.D. Salinger Gets Oral-History Treatment

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By Craig Hubert | The private life of reclusive author J.D. Salinger will be told in a new book, according to the Associated Press. “The Private War of J.D. Salinger” will be compiled as an oral-biography by author David Shields (“Reality Hunger”) and screenwriter Shane Salerno (“Savages”), who interviewed “over 150 sources who either worked directly with author J.D. Salinger, had a personal relationship with him, or were influenced by his work.” The book will be an extension of a documentary Salenro created about Salinger for the “American Masters” series on PBS. The book and film will tackle Salinger’s wartime experiences, which reportedly scarred him for the rest of his life. “This is a truly revelatory work, and one that transcends literary biography to investigate the larger story of the legacy of World War II,” a Simon & Schuster representative said in a statement. “Through the prism of Salinger’s life and his experience at war, the authors are presenting a personal history of the 20th century.”

Salinger, who died in 2010 from natural causes, lived a life of privacy for most of his writing career. The last thing he wrote, a short story titled “Hapworth 16, 1924,” was published in the New Yorker in 1965, but rumors have persisted that he continued his career under pen names or had an archive of material stashed away waiting to be published. The oral-history form will do justice to the author’s expansive and rumor filled life, and will reflect a combination of all the voices and all the stories, true or not, that have swirled around for decades. Salinger was undoubtedly many things to many different people, and, like the work George Plimpton did on “Edie,” the oral-biography of Warhol factory-star Edie Sedgwick, an oral-history will explore various aspects of his life, many of which were hidden from the rest of the world. The oral-history form has recently become an online trend – it’s accessible on smart phones and is an easy way to attract page views, but the style deserves to be explored more in longer book-length forms.

Image: J.D. Salinger/© Lotte Jacobi Collection, University of New Hampshire

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