When Shane Salerno's documentary on J.D. Salinger came out in 2013, three years after the reclusive author's death, A.O. Scott called it a "Punishment for Being Publicity-Shy." The film felt intrusive, and Scott noted that while "there are insights that can be plucked from it... to do so requires strenuous resistance to the spirit of the project, which is not just leering and gossipy, but aggressively anti-literary." By all accounts, an upcoming exhibit at the New York Public Library should be the opposite.
Working with Salinger’s son Matt Salinger and his widow Colleen Salinger, Declan Kiely, Director of Special Collections and Exhibitions at the Library, has created a tapestry of the author's life—a rare glimpse through "manuscripts, letters, photographs, books, and personal effects drawn exclusively from the novelist’s archive.
Matt Salinger addressed the decision to share these items in a statement, saying, "My immediate reaction was that he would not like the attention. But... there are a great many readers out there... who have long wanted an opportunity to get to know him better. The Library has given us this opportunity, and while it is but a glimpse into my father’s life, it is my hope that lifting the veil a bit with this exhibition will throw some light on the man I knew and loved that will be welcomed by many. In short, while I’ve long respected and honored (and zealously protected) his privacy, I also have come to see the value in sharing a direct and uninterpreted glimpse of his life with those readers who want it.”
This glimpse will be offered through around 200 items, all on loan from the J.D. Salinger Literary Trust; this is the first time they will be on view to the public. These items include handwritten and typewritten recipes, including one (which you can see in the above photos) featuring kale as an ingredient, in which Salinger notes that if the kale is frozen solid, to simply punch it.
Per the NYPL, other items include:
● The original typescript of The Catcher in the Rye, revised by the author, as well as the revised galley proofs of the novel
● The original typescripts of some of Salinger's shorter fiction, including “Franny” and “Zooey”
● An original pencil portrait by E. Michael Mitchell, who made the original cover design for The Catcher in the Rye
● Family photographs from J.D. Salinger’s childhood, youth, and later life, including photographs from his World War II service, and time as entertainment director on the cruise ship MS Kungsholm in 1941
● Correspondence between J.D. Salinger’s friends, fellow soldiers, and authors and editors, including William Shawn, William Maxwell, and Ernest Hemingway
● A bookcase from his bedroom filled with books from his personal library
● Items from his childhood, including a bowl he meticulously made at summer camp when he was about 10 years old (and kept his whole life)
● Notebooks, passports, honorable discharge papers from the army in which he identified his civilian occupation as "Playwright, Author," and personal artifacts such as his pipes, eyeglasses and wristwatch
● One of the author’s two typewriters, his film projector, and numerous other personal effects
There is also a description Salinger wrote of himself for a 1982 legal document, which reads, in part:
“I am a professional short-story writer and novelist. I write fiction and only fiction. For more than thirty years, I have lived and done my work in rural New Hampshire. I was married here and my two children were raised here. . . . I have been writing fiction rather passionately, singlemindedly, perhaps insatiably, since I was fifteen or so . . . I positively rejoice to imagine that, sooner or later, the finished product safely goes to the ideal private reader, alive or dead or yet unborn, male or female or possibly neither.”
The free exhibition, called J.D. Salinger, coincides with the centennial of his birth; it will be on display from October 18th through January 19th, 2020 in the Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III Gallery at the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building.