Princeton’s Salinger Stash

With a documentary on the J.D. Salinger airing on PBS on January 21, many are flocking to Princeton to read five of the reclusive author's unpublished short stories.

Unpenned: J.D. Salinger—here in Paris in 1944—claimed to have spent time writing in unoccupied foxholes during his Army duty.
Courtesy of the Weinstein Company

J.D. Salinger, the famously reclusive author, is having a coming-out party four years after his death. And New Jersey has a special place at the table.

PBS will air Salinger, a documentary for the American Masters series, on January 21. The film is a companion to a biography of the same name written by David Shields and Shane Salerno and published in September.

The documentary and attendant publicity should generate interest in New Jersey’s small share of the Salinger legacy: five unpublished short stories written during World War II that, in 1965, found a permanent home at Princeton University’s Firestone Library.

“Princeton’s Salinger collection is unsurpassed, especially in regards to his unpublished fiction,” says Fair Lawn resident Kenneth Slawnenski, author of an earlier biography, J.D. Salinger: A Life.

“These unpublished stories have a following,” says Don Skemer, Firestone Library’s curator of manuscripts. Each week, he says, a “handful” of people read copies of the original double-spaced manuscripts. However, media attention—such as when Salinger died in January 2010 at age 91—typically boosts the number of inquiries about the author of The Catcher in the Rye.

Princeton received the five stories, unavailable elsewhere, when it acquired the archives of Story Press/Story magazine, which published Salinger’s first story in 1940. The works were to be included in a short-story collection, but financing fell through and Salinger pulled back his work, explains Slawnenski, who is also the creator of deadcaulfields.com, a website devoted to the writer (and named for Holden Caulfield, protaganist of The Catcher in the Rye). Access to the stories in the library’s Special Collections section comes with restrictions. Potential readers have to fill out a form and get a photo ID made. To prevent copying, readers cannot use a computer or take notes. (Salinger’s literary trust controls the rights to the stories.)

Salinger, who was stationed in New Jersey at Fort Monmouth in 1942, was a member of the 4th Infantry Division and took part in the D-Day invasion of France. He participated in the liberation of Paris, fought at the Battle of the Bulge and worked in counterintelligence, questioning enemy prisoners of war, according to Slawenski.

“Of the five [stories], the two written during combat—‘The Magic Foxhole’ and ‘The Ocean Full of Bowling Balls’—are the best,” Slawenski says. “In these stories, Salinger seriously engages themes of life and death for the first time, and they also contain the first hints of mysticism in his writing.”

An autobiographical sketch written by Salinger in November 1944 and included in the Princeton archive indicates his dedication to his work, even in a combat zone. Said Salinger: “Am still writing when I find time and an unoccupied foxhole.”

Click here to leave a comment
There are no photos with those IDs or post 48183 does not have any attached images!
Read more Books, Jersey Living articles.

By submitting comments you grant permission for all or part of those comments to appear in the print edition of New Jersey Monthly.