Firestone Library’s Department of Rare Books and Special Collections houses a hidden trove of unpublished short stories, letters and drafts written by the reclusive Salinger. The collection includes stories featuring the characters from the author’s most famous work. These papers have been kept from the presses as per the author’s instructions, unpublished and unquoted.
Members of what University curator of manuscripts Don Skemer calls Salinger’s “cult following” will likely find many things to pique their interest.
The manuscripts were a gift from the editors and owners of Story magazine, which published some of Salinger’s short stories. The documents “include what [the magazine] published as well as what they rejected,” Skemer noted. He added that the collection contains complete works as well as drafts and correspondence between Salinger and the magazine’s editors.
The collection also includes “The Ocean Full of Bowling Balls,” the most famous of Salinger’s unpublished short stories, which involves the same themes and characters explored in “Catcher in the Rye.” There is also material relating to Salinger’s experiences as a soldier.
“The stories are from the span just before he went to the U.S. Army before WWII and just after that,” Skemer noted.
Visitors are not permitted to view the original documents, but they can access photocopies after wading through legal forms and repeated warnings of copyright procedures. The copies, Skemer explained, are used to maintain the “preservation and security” of the Salinger originals.
Salinger has not clarified his reasons for withholding the documents from publication, but he has said that the works are not to be published in his lifetime.
“Copyright protects words, but people can explain the stories in their own words. They just can’t publish without [Salinger’s] authorization,” Skemer said.
This prohibition on publication was tested in 1986, when Salinger sued the publishing company Random House and biographer Ian Hamilton for quoting and “closely paraphrasing” some of the works stored in Firestone Library. Hamilton wanted to include material as part of the biography “In Search of J.D. Salinger: A Writing Life,” but Salinger won the case, and the biography was declared unfit to be published as it stood.
Hamilton’s actions eventually benefited those endeavoring to gain insight into Salinger’s life, though. The University now holds some of Hamilton’s drafts and notes, as well as letters between Hamilton and people who knew Salinger as a child or during his time at the Valley Forge Military Academy and Ursinus College.
University undergraduates appear to be generally unaware of the hidden treasures stored in Firestone. Megan Clancy ’04’s senior thesis was entitled “Catching the Teenager: The Representation of Adolescence in the Catcher in the Rye and Other Works by J.D. Salinger.” But she was surprised to hear of the manuscripts’ existence.
“I didn’t refer to the manuscripts, and I wasn’t really aware of them when I wrote my thesis,” Clancy said in an e-mail.
Even some professors do not know about the manuscript. “I had no idea that we had such holdings,” English professor Benjamin Widiss said in an e-mail. “You can now count me among those eager to take a look.”