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Sunday, February 13, 2011

J.D. Salinger Biographer Speaks About Former Resident

The author of a new biography of J.D. Salinger came to Westport today where Salinger completed his “The Catcher in the Rye” and faced a large Westport Public Library audience intensely interested in the late reclusive author who lived briefly in their town.WestportNow.com Image
Author Kenneth Slawenski addresses a Westport Public Library audience today about his book “J.D. Salinger: A Life.” (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Contributed photo

Kenneth Slawenski, whose “J.D. Salinger: A Life” (Random House, 450 pp., $27) is featured on the cover of today’s Sunday New York Times Book Review, was interviewed by Westporter Sybil Steinberg, a former editor of Publisher’s Weekly. She said she had read the work in galleys and called it “riveting” and a book “I couldn’t put down.”

Slawenski, a first-time author and Salinger fan who maintains a website devoted to Salinger, DeadCaulfields.com, said it took him eight years to write the book “on lunch hours and weekends” while working “in computers.” The work, published here last month, previously appeared in Britain and Australia.

Slawenski painted a picture of a man who he said was severely impacted by his World War II experiences and struggled to make sense spiritually of the horrors he witnessed. “I’d sum up his life as a spiritual journey,” said Slawenski, who, like Salinger, eschewed a picture of himself on the book flap of his work.

“I was surprised at the depth of the man,” he added. “He was a very complex individual.”

Slawenski noted that Salinger, although his academics were weak, “had all the brains in the world but didn’t apply himself.” He said Salinger, however, was not shy about his talents, boasting to friends that one day he would write the great American novel – “and he did.”

Slawenski said he was pleased to be in Westport where Salinger lived on Old Road for a while beginning in 1949 before later moving to New Hampshire where he became a recluse. His book quotes Salinger as describing Westport as “snug and right to work in.”

Slawenski said Salinger completed “The Catcher in the Rye” here only to have it rejected by his longtime New Yorker editor, Gus Lobrano, who is said to have found it did not fit the magazine’s standards of literary decorum.WestportNow.com Image
Author Kenneth Slawenski makes a point during today’s Westport Public Library appearance. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Contributed photo

When Steinberg told Slawenski that Lobrano’s daughter had also lived in Westport, the author said he was not aware of that fact, adding, “Doesn’t everybody live in Westport?” He said maybe he, too, should move here from his present home in New Jersey.

In his book, Slawenski said Salinger moved to Westport to avoid the clamor of publicity and fame that accompanied his “Uncle Wiggly in Connecticut” which was turned into a popular movie, “My Foolish Heart.”

“Westport, therefore, became something of a personal monastery, a refuge in which he could connect the pieces of his Holden Caulfield book,” Slawenski wrote.

Among questions from the audience was one Slawenski said he undoubtedly gets asked by every interviewer – whether he thinks Salinger, who died almost a year ago at age 91, has other unpublished works hidden away.

He said all evidence pointed to “a tremendous amount of work there” and added he hoped the world would see it.

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Posted 02/13/11 at 10:55 PM  Permalink



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