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Salter in 2010
|Born|| June 10, 1925 |
New York City
|Notable works||A Sport and a Pastime|
Salter in 2010
|Born|| June 10, 1925 |
New York City
|Notable works||A Sport and a Pastime|
James Salter (born June 10, 1925, New York City) is an American novelist and short-story writer. Originally a career officer and pilot in the United States Air Force, he abandoned the military profession in 1957 following the successful publication of his first novel, The Hunters.
After a brief career in 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. His friend and fellow author, the Pulitzer Prize-winner Richard Ford, goes so far as to say, "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.
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Salter was born James Arnold Horowitz, the son of a moderately wealthy New Jersey real estate consultant/economist, on June 10, 1925. He attended P.S.6, the Horace Mann School, and among his classmates were Julian Beck, while Jack Kerouac attended during the 1939-40 academic year.
He is variously said to have favored either Stanford University or MIT as his choice of college, but in fact 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 class size was greatly increased and the curriculum drastically shortened (his father had 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 himself 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, 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. 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 the 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. 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 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 nothing but frustration in his first combat experience while others around him achieved glory, some of it perhaps invented.
Horowitz was subsequently 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. 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, a decision he found difficult because of his passion for flying. In total, he had served twelve years in the U.S. Air Force, the last six as a fighter pilot.
His works based on his Air Force experiences have a fatalistic tone: his protagonists, after struggling with conflicts between their reputations and self-perceptions, tend to be killed in the performance of their duties while inept antagonists within their own ranks soldier on. He paints a picture that will be vivid and familiar for any military pilot who has survived aerial combat.
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, 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, 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, for 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 between 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 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".
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 they 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.
James Salter's literature has been featured in the 2014 NSW Higher School Certificate.
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