Reclusive writer J.D. Salinger dead at 91

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The Independent Culture

Reclusive author J.D Salinger, who has died aged 91, was a giant of American literature whose seminal novel "The Catcher in the Rye" lent a voice to the angst and despair felt by generations of rebellious adolescents.

One of the most admired and influential US writers following the success of his 1951 novel and its laconic anti-hero Holden Caulfield, Salinger published nothing after 1965 and had not been interviewed since 1980.

Salinger died Wednesday at his home in New Hampshire, the Harold Ober Associates agency said Thursday. The cause of death was not announced.

Mystery surrounded much of the last five decades of his life. After being overwhelmed by his new fame, Salinger withdrew from public life retreating to his house perched on a tree-blanketed hill in the small town of Cornish, New Hampshire.

Memoirs written by his daughter and a former lover affirmed that Salinger still wrote, but there has was no sign of any new book despite the entreaties of his legions of fans.

Indeed in a rare 1980 interview with the Boston Sunday Globe in 1980, Salinger said: "I love to write, and I assure you I write regularly. But I write for myself and I want to be left absolutely alone to do it."

News in 1997 that his last published work "Hapworth 16: 1924," which appeared in the New Yorker magazine, was about to be reissued in hard print sparked excitement in the literary world. But the publication date was frequently postponed, with no reason given.

Jerome David Salinger was born on New Year's Day 1919 in Manhattan, New York, the son of an Irish mother and Jewish father with Polish roots.

As a teenager he began writing stories. In 1940, his debut story "The Young Ones" about several aimless youths was published in "Story" magazine.

Then came America's entry into the war, and the young Salinger was drafted in 1942. He took part in the D-Day stormings of the Normandy beaches, and his wartime experiences are said to have marked him for life.

He married a German woman after the war, but the marriage fell apart after just a few months, and Salinger renewed his writings with a passion.

In 1948 he published the short story "A Perfect Day for Bananafish" in the New Yorker, bringing him acclaim and introducing the Glass family and its seven rambunctious children Seymour Buddy, Boo Boo, Walt, Waker, Zooey, and Franny, who were to populate several of his short stories.

But it was "The Catcher in the Rye", published three years later, that was to seal his reputation. The book was an instant success, and even today remains recommended reading at many high schools, selling around 250,000 copies a year.

Sixteen-year-old Holden Caulfield's adventures and musings as he makes his way home after being kicked out of school touched a raw nerve and have fascinated generations of disaffected youngsters.

Yet the novel was also sharply criticized for its liberal use of swear words and open references to sex, and was banned in some countries.

Always a private person, Salinger found his new fame oppressive, and in 1953 he moved to sleepy Cornish, in the hope of staying out of the limelight.

Other collections of short stories or novellas followed, such as "Franny and Zooey," until his last published work "Hapworth 16: 1924" appeared in the New Yorker magazine in 1965.

"There is a marvelous peace in not publishing. It's peaceful," Salinger said in 1974, when he broke more than 20 years of silence in a phone interview with the New York Times.

"Publishing is a terrible invasion of my privacy. I like to write. I love to write. But I write just for myself and my own pleasure."

In 1955 he married a young student, Claire Douglas, and they had two children, Margaret and Matt. In Margaret's memoirs "The Dream Catcher" she reflects on an often painful childhood, describing her father as an autocratic man who kept her mother as a "virtual prisoner."

They divorced in 1967, and in 1972 Salinger began a year-long relationship with 18-year-old Joyce Maynard, with whom he had been exchanging letters.

In a sign of the lingering interest in Salinger, some letters he wrote to Maynard sold for more than 150,000 dollars at auction in 1999.

Salinger remained to the end of his life in his Cornish home, and had been married to Collen O'Neill since the 1980s. He fiercely guarded his privacy, even turning to the courts to stop publication of his letters. He refused all offers to sell the screen rights to "Catcher."

One of his final moves came in July last year when a US judge suspended the publication of an unauthorized sequel to "Catcher in the Rye" by Swedish author Fredrik Colting.

"There's no more to Holden Caulfield. Read the book again. It's all there. Holden Caulfield is only a frozen moment in time," he told the Boston Globe.

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