Despite the fact that J.D. Salinger looms large in the literary imagination, his published oeuvre is extremely limited, consisting of just four books and a scattering of short stories. The last of these works, a tale titled “Hapworth 16, 1924,” was printed in the New Yorker in June 1965, but as Salinger’s son tells the Guardian’s Lidija Haas, the story was far from the last piece penned by The Catcher in the Rye author.
In fact, the younger Salinger notes that his father kept writing throughout his life, producing an extensive set of works over the nearly 50-year period between the New Yorker story’s release and his death in January 2010. Now, Matt Salinger reveals to Haas, he and the author’s widow, Colleen O’Neill, are striving to release these unseen writings to the public once and for all—ideally at some point during the next decade.
“[My father] wanted me to pull it together, and because of the scope of the job, he knew it would take a long time,” Matt Salinger says. “This was somebody who was writing for 50 years without publishing, so that’s a lot of material. ... [But] there’s not a reluctance or a protectiveness: When it’s ready, we’re going to share it.”
Salinger’s son and widow first started preparing the works for publication in 2011. According to the Guardian’s Alison Flood, specific details surrounding the stories’ plot and subject matter remain under wraps, though it’s likely the Glasses—a family of nine that pops up in much of Salinger’s short fiction—will make an appearance.
The Associated Press’ Hillel Italie writes that Salinger’s published books include The Catcher in the Rye, a 1951 coming-of-age story that remains a staple of high school reading lists to this day; short story collection Nine Stories; a two-part novella called Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenter and Seymours: An Introduction; and, finally, Franny and Zooey, a text focused on the two youngest members of the Glass family.
Salinger wrote the majority of his post-Catcher in the Rye works in a secluded 90-acre estate in Cornish, New Hampshire, according to Biography.com. As Matt Salinger tells Haas, his father’s increasingly reclusive lifestyle reflected a strong desire to focus on writing: “He just decided that the best thing for his writing was not to have a lot of interactions with people, literary types in particular,” Salinger says. “He didn’t want to be playing in those poker games, he wanted to, as he would encourage every would-be writer to do, you know, stew in your own juices.”
Interestingly, the AP’s Italie notes, Salinger not only stopped publishing his work post-1965, but also rejected reissues or e-book editions of his extant writings. And when unauthorized editions of his early work appeared on the market without his permission in 1974, the author told The New York Times’ Lacey Fosburgh, “Some stories, my property, have been stolen. Someone's appropriated them.”
He continued, “It's an illicit act. It's unfair. Suppose you had a coat you liked and somebody went into your closet and stole it. That’s how I feel.”
Salinger’s son has continued his father’s attempts to control the flow of published writings, blocking the republication of several stories the author reportedly viewed as simply “youthful exercises,” not reader-ready materials. This task, Matt Salinger explains to Haas, is “no fun,” but stems from “love and protectiveness for [Salinger’s] work and his books.”
Most recently, Italie writes for the AP, a 2013 documentary and book suggested that five of the author’s posthumous works—including one based on Salinger’s brief marriage to a Nazi collaborator and a second surrounding Holden Caulfield, protagonist of Catcher in the Rye—would be published by 2020. Matt Salinger, for his part, refuted these rumors, telling Haas they “have little to no bearing on reality.”
Overall, the younger Salinger thinks that the actual posthumous materials set for publication will be “tremendously well received” by dedicated readers. Some “will definitely” be disappointed, he adds, but they likely represent “people that [Salinger] wouldn’t care about.”
This latest news arrives in the centennial year of Salinger’s birth. As Italie points out, last year saw the release of new covers and a boxed edition of the author’s old fiction. And come October of this year, PJ Grisar reports for the Forward, the New York Public Library will host an exhibition on Salinger featuring manuscripts, photographs, personal objects and letters provided by his son and O’Neill.
“When my father said that everything he has to say is in his fiction, believe it—it’s there. I think when more of his writing is made accessible, he covers everything that the discerning reader would care about,” Matt Salinger concludes to Haas. “My job is to help that happen as soon as it can, and stay out of the way.”