While having my hair done at my hairdresser’s this weekend, I flipped through the pages of the February issue of Vanity Fair. No articles had really caught my attention until I saw a black-and-white photo of J.D. Salinger. I read the piece intently. I got goose bumps reading about how real life events –tragic and gruesome- deeply affected Salinger’s life and his writing for ever. Even under a rain of bullets, he furiously typed stories, as one of his soldier friends described. I don’t know if that was true commitment or sheer madness. As I continued reading, I learned the parallels between Holden Caulfield and Salinger himself. Kenneth Slawenski explains in his latest book, J.D. Salinger: A Life, that World War II “shaped the author as well as his most famous character.”
Salinger was a short story writer and was not sure that he wanted to write a novel. On the good advice of his mentor, Whit Burnett, a professor at Columbia and editor at Story magazine, he continued to write about Holden Caulfield. He ended up writing nine stories about his main character and then wove these stories together to produce his masterpiece, The Catcher in the Rye. Slawenski goes on to say that “The achievement was a catharsis. It was confession, purging, prayer, and enlightenment, in a voice so distinct that it would alter American culture.”
To me this was an epiphany. Who would have thought of pain as a source of inspiration? A former mentor once told our class to write about what we know. Salinger wrote about war and pain because that’s what he knew. This hit close to home as a dear friend and writer shared with me her latest story. She even admitted it was cathartic. The result: a beautifully well-written edgy piece.
Reading about Salinger’s painful ordeal inspired me to go home and write. This article taught me that even a difficult experience can be indeed a source of inspiration.
Are your stories a catharsis, an epiphany, or a combination of both?