Literary Letter Makes Public Debut in Boston

John F. Kennedy Library Foundation

Literary fans have a chance to read an often-referenced but rarely seen correspondence; for the first time, a letter written by J.D. Salinger and addressed to friend and fellow writer, Ernest Hemingway, is on display at the John F. Kennedy Library in Boston through this Sunday.

The letter, which has been almost as reclusive as its author, has been part of the library's Ernest Hemingway collection for 30 years, but had never before been available for view by the public.

Salinger, who is famous for his anthem of teen angst The Catcher in the Rye, wrote the letter in 1946 from his hospital bed in Nuremburg, Germany. The war-fatigued writer was serving in the Army at the time and was hospitalized due to, what he called, "an almost constant state of despondency."

The two writers had met previously in Europe, and Salinger opens the letter with "Dear Poppa," a Hemingway nickname that signals their relationship was more than just an acquaintanceship.

The letter begins by discussing his treatment and doctors, then progresses to his feelings about the Army. Halfway through the letter, Salinger begins asking about Hemingway's work on his new novel, and implores him not to "sell it to the movies. You're a rich guy. As Chairman of your many fan clubs, I know I speak for all the members when I say Down with Gary Cooper."

Salinger also mentions some of his own work. "I've written a couple more of my incestuous stories, and several poems, and part of a play," Salinger writes, before alluding that he has a "very sensitive novel in mind," which some believe is a reference to Catcher in the Rye, which was published five years later, in 1951.

John F. Kennedy Library Foundation

"I hope the next time you come to New York that I'll be around and that if you have time I can see you. The talks I had with you here were the only hopeful minutes of the whole business," Salinger says in his closing remarks.

The letter, which was donated to the library by Hemingway's widow years after his death in 1961, has previously been available to and referenced by scholars over the years. Scholars have looked to the letter to find insight into the world-famous author, years before he isolated himself from the public.

Scholars also believe that Hemingway, who kept strict records of his correspondences, never answered the letter. If this proves true, the letter acts as the only correspondence between the two prolific authors.

The letter went on display last Sunday during a presentation of the PEN/Hemingway Award, an honor awarded annually to a first-time fiction writer. This year, Brigid Pasulka took home the award for her first novel, A Long, Long Time Ago and Essentially True. The letter will remain open to the public through Sunday, April 4th.

Salinger died earlier this year on January 27th at his home in New Hampshire. He was 91 years old.
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