James Salter

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James Salter
James Salter at Tulane Lecturn 2010.jpg
Salter in 2010
BornJames Arnold Horowitz
(1925-06-10)June 10, 1925
Passaic, New Jersey [1]
DiedJune 19, 2015(2015-06-19) (aged 90)
Sag Harbor, New York
Pen nameJames Salter
Notable worksA Sport and a Pastime,All That Is
  • Ann Altemus
    (m. 19511975)
  • Kay Eldridge
    (m. 1998)

James Arnold Horowitz [2] (June 10, 1925 – June 19, 2015), better known as James Salter, his pen name and later-adopted legal name, was an American novelist and short-story writer. Originally a career officer and pilot in the United States Air Force, he resigned from the military in 1957 following the successful publication of his first novel, The Hunters.


After a brief career in film writing and film directing, in 1979 Salter published the novel Solo Faces. He won numerous literary awards for his works, including belated recognition of works originally criticized at the time of their publication. [3]


On June 10, 1925, Salter was born and named James Arnold Horowitz, the son of Mildred Scheff and George Horowitz. [4] His father was a real estate broker and businessman who had graduated from West Point [5] in November 1918 and served in the Corps of Engineers with both Army and Army Reserve. The elder Horowitz attained the rank of colonel and was a recipient of the Legion of Merit.

Horowitz grew up in Manhattan, where he attended P.S.6, and the Horace Mann School – his classmates included Julian Beck. While he intended to study at Stanford University or MIT, he entered West Point on July 15, 1942, at the urging of his father – who had rejoined the Corps of Engineers in July 1941, in anticipation of war breaking out. (With others from his original Class of 1919, George Horowitz was called back to West Point after a month of duty to complete a post-graduate officer's course.) Like his father, Horowitz's time at West Point was shortened due to wartime class sizes being greatly increased and the curriculum drastically shortened. He graduated in 1945 after just three years, ranked 49th in general merit in his class of 852.

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, crash-landing 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. He 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.

Horowitz was transferred in September 1947 to 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 Tactical Air Command at Langley AFB, Virginia, in March 1950, 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. He 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 on July 4, 1952.

Horowitz subsequently was stationed in Germany and France, promoted to major, and assigned to lead an aerial demonstration team; he became a squadron operations officer, in line to become a squadron commander. Inspired by Under Milk Wood, [6] in his off-duty time he wrote his first novel, The Hunters, publishing it in 1956 under the pen name "James Salter". The film rights to the novel allowed Salter to leave active duty with the US Air Force in 1957 to write full-time. He also legally changed his name to Salter. [5] Having served twelve years in the US Air Force, the last six as a fighter pilot, Salter found the transition to full-time writer difficult. [7]

The 1958 film adaptation, The Hunters starring Robert Mitchum, was honored with acclaim for its powerful performances, moving plot, and realistic portrayal of the Korean War. Although an excellent adaptation by Hollywood standards, it was very different from the original novel, which dealt with the slow self-destruction of a 31-year-old fighter pilot, who had once been thought a "hot shot" but who found only frustration in his first combat experience while others around him achieved glory, some of it perhaps invented.

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. Salter however, later disdained both of his "Air Force" novels as products of youth "not meriting much attention". After several years in the Air Force Reserve, he severed his military 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. Salter and his first wife Ann divorced in 1975, having had four children: daughters Allan (1955-1980) and Nina (born 1957), and twin sons Claude and James (born 1962). Starting in 1976 he lived with journalist and playwright Kay Eldredge. They had a son, Theo Salter, born in 1985, and Salter and Eldredge married in Paris in 1998. [8] Eldredge and Salter co-authored a book entitled Life Is Meals: A Food Lover's Book of Days, in 2006.

Writing career

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.

A widely acclaimed writer of modern American fiction, [5] Salter was 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 Frenchwoman, told as flashbacks in the present tense by an unnamed narrator who barely knows the student, also yearns for the woman, and 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, for France, which he describes as a "secular holy land". [9]

Salter's prose shows the apparent influence of both Ernest Hemingway and Henry Miller [ citation needed ], but in interviews with his biographer, William Dowie, Salter states that he was most influenced by André Gide and Thomas Wolfe. His writing often is described by reviewers as "succinct" or "compressed",[ citation needed ] with short sentences and sentence fragments, and switching between first and third persons, as well as between the present and past tenses. His dialogue is attributed only when necessary to keep clear who is speaking, otherwise he allows the reader to draw inferences from tone and motivation.

His 1997 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, in fact, Salter is reflecting on what has transpired and the impressions of him 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 saying that 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". [10] [11]

His final novel, All That Is, was published to excellent reviews in 2013.

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. [12]

In the fall of 2014 Salter became the first Kapnick Writer-in-Residence at the University of Virginia. [13]

He died on June 19, 2015, in Sag Harbor, New York. [4]

Awards and honors


His friend and fellow author, the Pulitzer Prize-winner Richard Ford, said, "It is an article of faith among readers of fiction that James Salter writes American sentences better than anybody writing today," in his Introduction to Light Years for Penguin Modern Classics. Michael Dirda of the Washington Post is reported to have said that with a single sentence, he could break one's heart. [4] In an introduction to the final interview he gave before his death, Guernica described Salter as having "a good claim to being the greatest living American novelist". [15]

Writer Vivian Gornick had an altogether different take on his most recent writing. In her review of All That Is for Bookforum, she wrote "Certainly, it is true that most writers have only one story in them.... Then again, it is also true that it is the writer's obligation to make the story tell more the third or fourth time around than it did the first. For this reviewer, Salter's work fails on this score. In his eighties he is telling the story almost exactly as he told it in his forties." She also wrote that he was "so out of touch with the life we are actually living". [5]




Essays and short stories

Other works

Posthumous publications


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  1. VERONGOS, HELEN T. (June 19, 2015). "James Salter, a 'Writer's Writer' Short on Sales but Long on Acclaim, Dies at 90". The New York Times. Retrieved July 22, 2015. James Salter was born James Horowitz on June 10, 1925, in Passaic, N.J., to L. George Horowitz and the former Mildred Scheff.
  2. Norris, Mary (February 23, 2015). "Holy Writ". The New Yorker. Vol. XCI, no. 2. pp. 78–90. ISSN   0028-792X . Retrieved February 27, 2015. James Salter is a pen name; the writer's name is James Horowitz.
  3. Bowman, David (2005). "An officer and a gentleman". Salon. Archived from the original on August 7, 2011. Retrieved May 30, 2011.
  4. 1 2 3 Verongos, Helen T. (June 19, 2015). "James Salter, a 'Writer's Writer' Short on Sales but Long on Acclaim, Dies at 90". The New York Times .
  5. 1 2 3 4 Gornick, Vivian. "The Lust Generation: James Salter's World of Taste, Flying, and Mythic Sex". Bookforum. April/May 2013. p.22
  6. "My hero: James Salter by Rupert Thomson". TheGuardian.com .
  7. "James Salter obituary". The Guardian. Retrieved January 17, 2019.
  8. 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
  9. Miller, Margaret Winchell (February 1982). "Glimpses of a Secular Holy Land: The Novels of James Salter". The Hollins Critic. IXX (1): 1–13.
  10. "James Salter to Receive 2012 PEN/Malamud Award". PEN/Faulkner Foundation. Archived from the original on June 20, 2012. Retrieved May 22, 2012.
  11. "James Salter to Receive the 2012 PEN/Malamud Award for Excellence in the Short Story (press release)" (PDF). PEN/Faulkner Foundation. May 21, 2012. Retrieved May 22, 2012.
  12. "The Ransom Center Acquires James Salter Archive". February 28, 2000. Archived from the original on May 15, 2012. Retrieved November 13, 2012.
  13. Virginia.edu
  14. Dorie Baker (March 4, 2013). "Yale awards $1.35 million to nine writers". YaleNews. Retrieved March 5, 2013.
  15. "Another Kind of Life". Guernica / A Magazine of Art & Politics. Retrieved January 10, 2016.
  16. Panmacmillan.com [ permanent dead link ]

Further reading