Ethnicity: Father was Jewish, while mother is said to be Scotch-Irish
Jerome David Salinger was born on January 1, 1919 to Marie (nee Jillich) and Sol Salinger, the son of rabbi who ran a thriving cheese and ham import business. J.D. Salinger was the youngest of two children. His only sibling was his older sister Doris.
The young Salinger attended public schools on the West Side of Manhattan, then in 1932, the family moved to Park Avenue and Salinger was enrolled at the McBurney School, a nearby private school. There he managed the fencing team, wrote for the school newspaper and appeared in plays.
Despite his apparent intelligence, Salinger, or Sonny as he was known as child, wasn't much of a student and after flunking out of the McBurney School, was shipped off by his parents to Valley Forge Military Academy in Wayne, Pennsylvania. There Salinger began writing stories “under the covers, with the aid of a flashlight”. At Valley Forge Salinger was the literary editor of the class yearbook, Cross Sabres. He also participated in the Glee Club, Aviation Club, French Club and the Non-Commissioned Officers Club. Salinger’s Valley Forge 201 file reveals that he was a mediocre student.
After graduating Valley Forge, Salinger returned home. He started his freshman year at New York University in 1936, and considered studying special education, but dropped out the following spring. That fall his father urged him to learn about the meat-importing business and he went to work at a company in Vienna, Austria. But Salinger, who spent the bulk of his five months overseas in Vienna, paid more attention to language than business.
Returning home, he made another attempt at college, this time at Ursinus College in Pennsylvania. There he wrote a column called "skipped diploma," which included movie reviews. Salinger dropped out after one semester.
In 1939 Salinger attended a Columbia University evening writing class. There he met a professor, Whit Burnett, who would change his life. Burnett wasn't just a good teacher; he was also the editor of Story magazine, an influential publication that showcased short stories. Burnett, sensing Salinger's talent as a writer, pushed him to write and soon Salinger's work was appearing not just in Story, but in other big-name publications such as Collier's and the Saturday Evening Post.
His career had started to take off, but then, like so many young American men around this time, World War II interrupted his life. Following the attack on Pearl Harbor attack, Salinger was drafted into the army, which he served with from 1942-1944. His short military career saw him land at Utah Beach in France during the Normandy Invasion and be a part of the action at the Battle of the Bulge.
During this time, however, Salinger continued to write, assembling chapters for a new novel whose main character was a deeply unsatisfied young man named Holden Caulfield.
Salinger, however, did not escape the war without some trauma and when it ended, he was hospitalized after suffering a nervous breakdown. The details about Salinger's stay are shrouded in some mystery, but what is clear is that while undergoing care he met a woman named Sylvia, a German and possibly a former Nazi. The two married but their union was a short one, just eight months.
When Salinger returned to New York in 1946 he quickly set about resuming his life as a writer and soon found his work published in his favorite magazine, The New Yorker. He also continued to push on with the work on his novel. Finally, in 1951 The Catcher in the Rye was published.
In 1953, Salinger published a collection of seven stories from The New Yorker ("Bananafish" among them), as well as two that the magazine had rejected. The collection was published as Nine Stories in the United States, and For Esmé – with Love and Squalor in the UK, after one of Salinger's best-known stories. The book received grudgingly positive reviews, and was a financial success. Nine Stories spent three months on the New York Times Bestseller list.
In 1953, he moved from an apartment at 300 East 57th Street New York, to Cornish, New Hampshire. Two collections of his work, Franny and Zooey and Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters, all of which had appeared previously in The New Yorker, were published in book form in the early 1960s. In the June 19, 1965 edition of The New Yorker nearly the entire issue was dedicated to a new short story, the 25,000-word "Hapworth 16, 1924". Then, nothing. "Hapworth" was the last Salinger piece ever to be published while he was still alive.
Despite Salinger's best efforts, not all of his life remained private.
In June 1955, at the age of 36, Salinger married Claire Douglas, a Radcliffe student (her father was British art critic Robert Langton Douglas). Salinger also insisted that Claire drop out of school and live with him, only four months shy of graduation, which she did. Certain elements of the story "Franny", published in January 1955, are based on his relationship with Claire. They had two children, Margaret (b. December 10, 1955) and Matthew (b. February 13, 1960). In 1966, Claire Douglas sued for divorce, reporting that if the relationship continued it "would seriously inure her health and endanger her reason."
Six years later, in 1972, at the age of 53, Salinger found himself in another relationship, this time with a college freshman named Joyce Maynard. At this time she was already an experienced writer for Seventeen magazine. The two lived together in Cornish for 10 months before Salinger kicked her out. In 1998 Maynard wrote about her time with Salinger in a salacious memoir that painted a controlling and obsessive portrait of her former lover. A year later, Maynard auctioned off a series of letters Salinger had written her while they were still together. The letters fetched $156,500. The buyer, a computer programmer, later returned them to Salinger as a gift.
In 2000, Salinger's daughter Margaret wrote an equally negative account of her father that like Maynard's earlier book was met with mixed reviews.
For Salinger other relationships followed his affair with Maynard. For some time he dated the actress Ellen Joyce. Later he married a young nurse named Colleen O'Neill. The two were married up until his death.
Salinger died of natural causes at his home in New Hampshire on January 27, 2010. He was 91.