Salter in 2010
June 10, 1925 |
New York, New York
|Notable work(s)||A Sport and a Pastime|
James Salter (born June 10, 1925, New York City) is an American novelist and short-story writer. Once a career officer and pilot in the United States Air Force, he abandoned the military profession in 1957 after successful publication of his first novel, The Hunters.
After a brief career at film writing and film directing, Salter became a "writer's writer" in 1979 with publication of the novel Solo Faces. He has won numerous literary awards for his works, including belated recognition of works originally rejected at the time of their publication.
|This section, except for one footnote, does not cite any references or sources. (April 2013)|
Salter was born James Arnold Horowitz, the son of a moderately wealthy New Jersey real estate consultant/economist, on June 10, 1925. He attended the Horace Mann School, and among his classmates were Julian Beck and William F. Buckley, Jr., while Jack Kerouac attended during the 1939-40 academic year.
He is alternately said to have favored Stanford University or MIT as his choice of college, but entered West Point on July 15, 1942, at the urging of his alumnus father, Col. Louis G. Horowitz, who had gone back into the Corps of Engineers in July 1941 in anticipation of the war. Like his father, Horowitz attended West Point during a world war, when classes sizes were greatly increased and the curriculum drastically shortened (his father graduated in November 1918, after only 16 months in the academy, and with others of his Class of 1919 was called back after a month of duty to complete a post-graduate officer's course). Horowitz graduated in 1945 after just three years, ranked 49th in general merit in his class of 852. He was known among classmates as "Horrible" Horowitz.
He completed flight training during his first class year, with primary flight training at Pine Bluff, Arkansas, and advanced training at Stewart Field, New York. On a cross-country navigation flight in May 1945, his flight became scattered, and low on fuel, he mistook a railroad trestle for a runway, crashlanding his T-6 Texan training craft into a house in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. Possibly as a result, he was assigned to multi-engine training in B-25s until February 1946, and received his first unit assignment with the 6th Troop Carrier Squadron, stationed at Nielson Field, the Philippines; Naha Air Base, Okinawa; and Tachikawa Air Base, Japan. He was promoted to 1st lieutenant in January 1947.
Salter was transferred in September 1947 at Hickam AFB, Hawaii, then entered post-graduate studies at Georgetown University in August 1948, receiving his master's degree in January 1950. He was assigned to the headquarters of the Tactical Air Command at Langley AFB, Virginia, in March, where he remained until volunteering for assignment in the Korean War. He arrived in Korea in February 1952 after transition training in the F-86 Sabre with the 75th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron at Presque Isle Air Force Base, Maine. Horowitz was assigned to the 335th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron, 4th Fighter-Interceptor Wing, a renowned MiG-hunting unit. He flew more than 100 combat missions between February 12 and August 6, 1952, and was credited with a MiG-15 victory July 4, 1952. He used his Korean experience for his first novel, The Hunters (1956), which was made into a film starring Robert Mitchum in 1958.
The movie version of The Hunters was honored with much acclaim for its powerful performances, moving plot, and realistic portrayal of the Korean War. Although an excellent adaptation for Hollywood, it was very different from the original novel, which dealt with the slow self-destruction of a 31-year-old fighter pilot, who was once thought to be a "hot shot" but who found nothing but frustration in his first combat experience while others around him achieved glory, some of it perhaps invented.
He served twelve years in the U.S. Air Force, the last six as a fighter pilot, before leaving the military to pursue a writing career, a decision he found difficult because of his passion for flying. His works based on his Air Force experiences have a fatalistic tone: his protagonists, after struggling with conflicts between their reputations and self-perceptions, are killed in the performance of duties while inept antagonists within their own ranks soldier on. Salter paints a vivid and familiar picture for any military pilot who has survived aerial combat.
Salter was subsequently stationed in Germany and France, promoted to major, assigned to lead an aerial demonstration team, and became a squadron operations officer, in line to become a squadron commander. In his off-duty time he worked on his fiction, completing a manuscript that was eventually rejected by publishers, and another that became The Hunters. Despite the responsibilities of a spouse and two small children, he abruptly left active duty with the Air Force in 1957 to pursue his writing.
His 1961 novel The Arm of Flesh drew on his experiences flying with the 36th Fighter-Day Wing at Bitburg Air Base, Germany, between 1954 and 1957. An extensively revised version of the novel was reissued in 2000 as Cassada. However, Salter himself later disdained both of his "Air Force" novels as products of youth "not meriting much attention." After several years in the Air Force Reserve, Salter severed his connection completely in 1961 by resigning his commission after his unit was called up to active duty for the Berlin Crisis. He moved back to New York with his family, which included twins born in 1962, and legally changed his name to Salter.
Salter took up film writing, first as a writer of independent documentary films, winning a prize at the Venice Film Festival in collaboration with television writer Lane Slate (Team, Team, Team). He also wrote for Hollywood, although disdainful of it. His last script, commissioned and then rejected by Robert Redford, became his novel, Solo Faces.
Widely regarded as one of the most artistic writers of modern American fiction, Salter himself is critical of his own work, having said that only his 1967 novel A Sport and a Pastime comes close to living up to his standards. Set in post-war France, A Sport and a Pastime is a piece of erotica involving an American student and a young French girl, told as flashbacks in the present tense by an unnamed narrator who barely knows the student and who himself yearns for the girl, and who freely admits that most of his narration is fantasy. Many characters in Salter's short stories and novels reflect his passion for European culture and, in particular, France, which he describes as a "secular holy land."
Salter's prose shows the apparent influence of both Ernest Hemingway and Henry Miller, but in interviews with his biographer, William Dowie, he states that he was most influenced by André Gide and Thomas Wolfe. His writing is often described by reviewers as "succinct" or "compressed", with short sentences and sentence fragments, and switching between 1st and 3rd persons, and in the present and past tenses. His dialogue is attributed only enough to keep clear who is speaking but otherwise allows the reader to draw inferences from tone and motivation.
His memoir Burning the Days uses this prose style to chronicle the impact his experiences at West Point, in the Air Force, and as a celebrity pseudo-expatriate in Europe had on the way he viewed his life-style changes. Although it appears to celebrate numerous episodes of adultery, Salter is in fact reflecting on what has transpired and the impressions of himself it has left, just as does his poignant reminiscence on the death of his daughter. A line from The Hunters expresses these feelings: "They knew nothing of the past and its holiness."
Salter published a collection of short stories, Dusk and Other Stories in 1988. The collection received the PEN/Faulkner Award, and one of its stories ("Twenty Minutes") became the basis for the 1996 film Boys. He was elected to The American Academy of Arts and Letters in 2000. In 2012, PEN/Faulkner Foundation selected him for the 25th PEN/Malamud Award as his works show the readers "how to work with fire, flame, the laser, all the forces of life at the service of creating sentences that spark and make stories burn".
Salter and his first wife Ann divorced during his screen-writing period, after which he lived with journalist and playwright Kay Eldredge beginning in 1976. They had a son, Theo Salter, born in 1985, and married in Paris in 1998.
Salter's writings—including correspondence, manuscripts and heavily revised typescript drafts for all of his published works including short stories and screenplays—are archived at The Harry Ransom Center in Austin, Texas.
Awards and honors
- The Hunters (novel, 1957; revised and reissued, 1997)
- The Arm of Flesh (novel, 1961; republished as Cassada, 2000)
- A Sport and a Pastime (novel, 1967)
- Downhill Racer (screenplay, 1969)
- The Appointment (screenplay, 1969)
- Three (screenplay, 1969; also directed)
- Light Years (novel, 1975)
- Solo Faces (novel, 1979)
- Threshold (screenplay, 1981)
- Dusk and Other Stories (short stories, 1988; PEN/Faulkner Award 1989)
- Still Such (poetry, 1988)
- Burning the Days (memoir, 1997)
- Gods of Tin (compilation memoir, 2004; selections from The Hunters, Cassada, and Burning the Days)
- Last Night (short stories, 2005)
- There and Then: The Travel Writing of James Salter (essays, 2005)
- Life Is Meals: A Food Lover's Book of Days (with wife Kay Eldredge, 2006)
- "My Lord You" and "Palm Court" (2006)
- All That Is (novel, 2013)
- "A Final Glory: The Novels of James Salter" reproduced on JSTOR
- New York State Writers Institute bio
- Bowman, David (2005). "An officer and a gentleman". Salon.com. Retrieved 2011-05-30.
- See, e.g., classmate Jack Broughton's reference to Salter as "Horrible" Horowitz on p. 56 of Rupert Red Two: A Fighter Pilot's Life from Thunderbolts to Thunderchiefs, Zenith Press, 2007.
- Miller, Margaret Winchell (February 1982). "Glimpses of a Secular Holy Land: The Novels of James Salter". The Hollins Critic IXX (1): 1–13.
- "James Salter to Receive 2012 PEN/Malamud Award". PEN/Faulkner Foundation. Retrieved 22 May 2012.
- "James Salter to Receive the 2012 PEN/Malamud Award for Excellence in the Short Story (press release)". PEN/Faulkner Foundation. 21 may 2012. Retrieved 22 May 2012.
- Vernon, Alex (2004). Soldiers once and still: Ernest Hemingway, James Salter, and Tim O'Brien. University of Iowa Press. ISBN 0-87745-886-3., p. 132
- "The Ransom Center Acquires James Salter Archive". 28. Retrieved 13 November 2012.
- Dorie Baker (March 04, 2013). "Yale awards $1.35 million to nine writers". YaleNews. Retrieved March 05, 2013.
- Dowie, William, James Salter, 1998, Twayne Publishers, ISBN 0-8057-1604-1
|Wikiquote has a collection of quotations related to: James Salter|
- Adam Begley, "A Few Well-Chosen Words", with an extensive biography through 1990
- David Bowman, "An officer and a gentleman", Salon.com, June 17, 2005
- Works, from Answers.com
- Short biography and interview at Random House
- James Salter at the Internet Movie Database
- The Ransom Center Acquires James Salter Papers (includes a short biography)
- A conversation with author James Salter Interview w/ Charlie Rose, 19 September 1997.
- James Salter author page and article archive from The New York Review of Books
- Edward Hirsch (Summer 1993). "James Salter, The Art of Fiction No. 133". The Paris Review.
- Sophie Roiphe "The Greatest Novelist You Haven’t Read", Slate Magazine, March 28, 2013