JFK Library to display Salinger letter to Hemingway

BOSTON — It was the summer of 1946 when a young and war-fatigued J.D. Salinger reached out to another writer whose career had also been shaped by war, a writer he had arranged to meet while both had been in Europe.

"The talks I had with you here were the only hopeful minutes of the whole business," Salinger writes at the close of his letter to Ernest Hemingway, which will be displayed publicly for the first time today at the John F. Kennedy Library in Boston.

Hemingway's son, Patrick, will attend the Sunday ceremony to honor Brigid Pasulka for her first novel, "A Long, Long Time Ago and Essentially True."

The letter, which has been available to and referenced by scholars over the years, is part of the Ernest Hemingway collection that has been kept at the JFK Library for 30 years.

It offers a fascinating glimpse of a sardonic Salinger, then serving in the Army, in the period before the 1951 publication of "Catcher in the Rye."

The author even jokingly compares himself with Catcher in the Rye protagonist Holden Caulfield, who had appeared as a character in earlier short stories.

Salinger died Jan. 27 at age 91 at his home in New Hampshire.

JFK Library director Thomas Putnam said renewed interest in the reclusive author was one reason why the library decided to display the letter during a presentation of the PEN/Hemingway Award, given annually to a first-time fiction writer.

Salinger addresses the letter "Dear Poppa," a Hemingway nickname, signaling a friendship possibly beyond just casual.

Putnam said there was no indication that Hemingway answered the letter.

"Because we don't have other letters, I assume there wasn't other correspondence. There may have been and it may just not be here, but Hemingway was very good about keeping his correspondence so it could be the only letter between the two," he said.

Hemingway's widow, Mary, donated the letters to the library partly out of gratitude to the Kennedy Administration, which had helped arrange her to travel to Cuba and retrieve his papers after her husband's death in 1961, Putnam explained. The papers are kept in a room at the library that is not generally accessible to visitors.

Share This Story