As a tribute to J. D. Salinger (1919–2010), who died January 27, The Morgan Library & Museum presents a pair of exhibitions, the first beginning March 16, of ten letters by the author.
Written to Michael Mitchell, who was commissioned by Salinger to create the dust jacket for The Catcher in the Rye, the letters cover a forty-year period and constitute an extraordinarily rare and revealing correspondence. They richly document a period of Salinger's life that has remained obscure and provide hitherto unknown details about the daily habits and thought of this legendary author.
The first exhibition of four letters will run through April 11. The second exhibition of six letters will open on April 13 and run through May 9. Both will be shown in the Morgan's historic McKim building.
The letters were acquired in 1998 as part of the Morgan's Carter Burden Collection of American Literature. The Morgan restricted access to the letters during Salinger's lifetime in deference to the author's widely known desire for privacy. Now that the restriction has been lifted, the letters are to be exhibited for the first time and will be available to scholars.
They reveal many sides of Salinger's personality. Writing about marriage, parenthood, travel, work, and his self-imposed isolation from friends and society, he was at turns self-deprecating, admiring, affectionate, playful, and acerbically funny. Some letters attest to his suspicion of publishers as well as his impatience and anger with the admirers and would-be biographers who would intrude into his private life.
He wrote eloquently and poignantly about the challenges to creativity that come with middle age, and the self-doubt attendant upon his writing. But he confirmed what many of his devoted readers had long hoped: Salinger continued to adhere to a strict writing discipline and, by the mid-1960s, had completed at least two novels and continued to work on others.