The Harry Ransom Center, a humanities research library and museum at The University of Texas at Austin, has acquired 21 previously unrecorded and unpublished letters by author J.D. Salinger. The letters are accessible as part of the Ransom Center’s existing Salinger collection, which includes published and unpublished manuscripts, galleys, page proofs and correspondence.
Most of the newly acquired letters are written by Salinger to Ruth Smith Maier, a classmate and friend he met at Ursinus College. Salinger attended Ursinus College in Collegeville, Pa., in the fall of 1938, but he quit midterm and returned to New York City. He and Maier maintained a 40-year correspondence in which Salinger commented on a wide range of topics including his literary ambitions, his writing and his family life. A number of letters offer insight into his evolving attitude toward public exposure and cast light on his decision to withhold new work from public view.
In the earliest letter, the 22-year-old Salinger expresses confidence in his literary gifts: “Oh, but I’m good,” he writes Maier. “It will take time to convince the public, but [it] shall be done.” In later letters Salinger reminisces about his brief time at Ursinus College (“one of the last peaceful or simple or oddly comforting times of my life”) and comments on his second marriage and early fatherhood. Five letters from 1977 and 1978 are written to Ruth Maier’s son, Christopher. In one he offers an explanation for his decision to withhold his writing from the public, explaining “publication tends, for me, at least, to put all work still in progress in dire jeopardy…I distrust the finality of publication.”
The acquisition also includes copies of Ruth Smith Maier’s letters to Salinger and a draft of the first letter Christopher Maier sent the author.
Stephen Enniss, director of the Harry Ransom Center, notes the correspondence will be of particular interest to those who wish to understand Salinger’s withdrawal from public life. He adds, “It also humanizes the author, showing him confronting a range of life-changing events from marriage to fatherhood and his own aging.”
The Ransom Center’s Salinger collection was established in 1968 and has been augmented with subsequent additions over many years. The Ransom Center is one of a handful of institutions that hold original Salinger manuscripts, including Princeton University, Harvard University, the New York Public Library, the Library of Congress and the Morgan Library.