Acclaimed US writer James Salter dies aged 90

Despite being critically lauded Salter never achieved the popularity he craved

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US writer James Salter, once described as America’s most “underrated underrated author,” has died aged 90.

Salter, who died in New York at a physical therapy session, never achieved the widespread recognition that he craved but instead critically acclaimed for almost all his work.

Born 10 June 1925 as James Horowitz, he entered the US Air Force and served with the military until 1957 when he quit to devote his full attention to writing.

He legally changed his name to Salter as he did not want undue attention from the military after the publication of his first novel The Hunters (1957), he told The New Yorker. The book was later turned into a film starring Robert Mitchum.

He published a number of screenplays and short stories, but was most proud of his third novel A Sport and a Pastime (1967).

“In its peculiar compound of lucid surface and dark interior, it’s as nearly perfect as any American fiction I know,” novelist Reynolds Price wrote after the book was reissued in 1985.

But despite the accolades of reviewers, and small but steady sales, Salter lacked the popularity he seemed to desire. “You can’t be admitted to the ranks of writers of importance unless you have sales,” he said.

Married twice, Salter is survived by his three children with his first wife, Ann Altemus, and a son with his second, the writer Kay Elredge.

The death of his eldest child, daughter Allan, in 1980 severely affected him. “I have never been able to write the story,” he recalled of the moment he attempted to resuscitate her.

In his later years he achieved some measure of recognition for his work. Salter was awarded the PEN/Falkner award for a collection of short stories and chosen for Yale's literary award the Windham Campbell Prizes in 2013.