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James Salter

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Subject: Downhill Racer, The Appointment, List of United States Military Academy alumni, People by year/Reports/No other categories/2, James Salter (disambiguation)
Collection: 1925 Births, 2015 Deaths, 20Th-Century American Novelists, 21St-Century American Novelists, American Erotica Writers, American Male Novelists, American Male Short Story Writers, American Military Personnel of the Korean War, American Short Story Writers, Horace Mann School Alumni, Iowa Writers' Workshop Faculty, Jewish American Novelists, Living People, Male Short Story Writers, Members of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, Pen/Faulkner Award for Fiction Winners, People from Manhattan, People from New Jersey, People from New York City, United States Air Force Airmen, United States Military Academy Alumni, Writers from New York City
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James Salter

James Salter
Salter in 2010
Born James Arnold Horowitz
(1925-06-10)June 10, 1925
Passaic, New Jersey [1]
Died June 19, 2015(2015-06-19) (aged 90)
Sag Harbor, New York
Pen name James Salter
Occupation Writer
Notable works A Sport and a Pastime

James Arnold Horowitz[2] (June 10, 1925 – June 19, 2015), better known as James Salter, his pen name and later-adopted legal name, was an American novelist and short-story writer. Originally a career officer and pilot in the United States Air Force, he resigned from the military in 1957 following the successful publication of his first novel, The Hunters.

After a brief career in film writing and film directing, in 1979 Salter published the novel Solo Faces. He won numerous literary awards for his works, including belated recognition of works originally criticized at the time of their publication.[3] His friend and fellow author, the Pulitzer Prize-winner Richard Ford, went so far as to say, "It is an article of faith among readers of fiction that James Salter writes American sentences better than anybody writing today" in his Introduction to Light Years for Penguin Modern Classics. Michael Dirda of the Washington Post is reported to have said that with a single sentence, he could break one's heart.[4]


  • Biography 1
  • Writing career 2
  • Awards and honors 3
  • Works 4
  • References 5
  • Education 6
  • References 7
  • Additional reading 8
  • External links 9


On June 10, 1925 Salter was born and named James Arnold Horowitz, the son of Mildred Scheff and George Horowitz, a real estate broker and businessman.[4] He attended P.S.6, the Horace Mann School, and among his classmates were Julian Beck, while Jack Kerouac attended during the 1939-40 academic year.

Variously, he is said to have favored either Stanford University or MIT as his choice of college, but in fact entered West Point on July 15, 1942, at the urging of his alumnus father who had gone back into the Corps of Engineers in July 1941 in anticipation of the war. As did his father, Horowitz attended West Point during a world war, when class size was greatly increased and the curriculum drastically shortened (his father was graduated in November 1918, after only 16 months in the academy, and with others of his Class of 1919 was called back after a month of duty to complete a post-graduate officer's course). Graduated in 1945 after just three years, Horowitz ranked 49th in general merit in his class of 852.

He completed flight training during his first class year, with primary flight training at Pine Bluff, Arkansas, and advanced training at Stewart Field, New York. On a cross-country navigation flight in May 1945, his flight became scattered and, low on fuel, he mistook a railroad trestle for a runway, crash-landing his T-6 Texan training craft into a house in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. Possibly as a result, he was assigned to multi-engine training in B-25s until February 1946. He received his first unit assignment with the 6th Troop Carrier Squadron, stationed at Nielson Field, the Philippines; Naha Air Base, Okinawa; and Tachikawa Air Base, Japan. He was promoted to 1st lieutenant in January 1947.

Horowitz was transferred in September 1947 to master's degree in January 1950. He was assigned to the headquarters of the Tactical Air Command at Langley AFB, Virginia, in March 1950, where he remained until volunteering for assignment in the Korean War. He arrived in Korea in February 1952 after transition training in the F-86 Sabre with the 75th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron at Presque Isle Air Force Base, Maine. He was assigned to the 335th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron, 4th Fighter-Interceptor Wing, a renowned MiG-hunting unit. He flew more than 100 combat missions between February 12 and August 6, 1952 and was credited with a MiG-15 victory on July 4, 1952. He used his Korean experience for his first novel, The Hunters (1956), which was made into a film starring Robert Mitchum in 1958.

The movie version of The Hunters was honored with acclaim for its powerful performances, moving plot, and realistic portrayal of the Korean War. Although an excellent adaptation by Hollywood standards, it was very different from the original novel, which dealt with the slow self-destruction of a 31-year-old fighter pilot, who had once been thought a "hot shot" but who found only frustration in his first combat experience while others around him achieved glory, perhaps, some of it invented.

Horowitz subsequently was stationed in Germany and France, promoted to major, and assigned to lead an aerial demonstration team; he became a squadron operations officer, in line to become a squadron commander. In his off-duty time he worked on his fiction, completing a manuscript that eventually was rejected by publishers, and another that became The Hunters. Despite the responsibilities of a spouse and two small children, he abruptly left active duty with the Air Force in 1957 to pursue his writing, a decision he found difficult because of his passion for flying. In total, he had served twelve years in the U.S. Air Force, the last six as a fighter pilot.

His works based on his Air Force experiences have a fatalistic tone: his protagonists, after struggling with conflicts between their reputations and self-perceptions, tend to be killed in the performance of their duties while inept antagonists within their own ranks soldier on.

His 1961 novel The Arm of Flesh drew on his experiences flying with the 36th Fighter-Day Wing at Bitburg Air Base, Germany, between 1954 and 1957. An extensively-revised version of the novel was reissued in 2000 as Cassada. Salter however, later disdained both of his "Air Force" novels as products of youth "not meriting much attention." After several years in the Air Force Reserve, he severed his military connection completely in 1961 by resigning his commission after his unit was called up to active duty for the Berlin Crisis.

He moved back to New York with his family and legally changed his name to Salter.

Salter and his first wife Ann divorced in 1975, having had four children: Allan ( born 1955, died 1980), Nina (born 1957), Claude and James (twins, born 1962). Starting in 1976 he lived with journalist and playwright Kay Eldredge. They had a son, Theo Salter, born in 1985, and they married in Paris in 1998.[5] Eldredge and Salter co-authored a book entitled Life Is Meals: A Food Lover's Book of Days, in 2006.

Writing career

Salter took up film writing, first as a writer of independent documentary films, winning a prize at the Venice Film Festival in collaboration with television writer Lane Slate (Team, Team, Team). He also wrote for Hollywood, although disdainful of it. His last script, commissioned and then rejected by Robert Redford, became his novel, Solo Faces.

Widely regarded as one of the most artistic writers of modern American fiction, Salter was critical of his own work, having said that only his 1967 novel A Sport and a Pastime comes close to living up to his standards. Set in post-war France, A Sport and a Pastime is a piece of erotica involving an American student and a young Frenchwoman, told as flashbacks in the present tense by an unnamed narrator who barely knows the student, also yearns for the woman, and freely admits that most of his narration is fantasy. Many characters in Salter's short stories and novels reflect his passion for European culture and, in particular, for France, which he describes as a "secular holy land."[6]

Salter's prose shows the apparent influence of both Ernest Hemingway and Henry Miller, but in interviews with his biographer, William Dowie, Salter states that he was most influenced by André Gide and Thomas Wolfe. His writing often is described by reviewers as "succinct" or "compressed", with short sentences and sentence fragments, and switching between first and third persons, as well as, between the present and past tenses. His dialogue is attributed only when necessary to keep clear who is speaking, otherwise he allows the reader to draw inferences from tone and motivation.

His 1997 memoir Burning the Days uses this prose style to chronicle the impact his experiences at West Point, in the Air Force, and as a celebrity pseudo-expatriate in Europe had on the way he viewed his life-style changes. Although it appears to celebrate numerous episodes of adultery, in fact, Salter is reflecting on what has transpired and the impressions of him it has left, just as does his poignant reminiscence on the death of his daughter. A line from The Hunters expresses these feelings: "They knew nothing of the past and its holiness."

Salter published a collection of short stories, Dusk and Other Stories in 1988. The collection received the PEN/Faulkner Award, and one of its stories ("Twenty Minutes") became the basis for the 1996 film Boys. He was elected to The American Academy of Arts and Letters in 2000. In 2012, PEN/Faulkner Foundation selected him for the 25th PEN/Malamud Award saying that his works show the readers "how to work with fire, flame, the laser, all the forces of life at the service of creating sentences that spark and make stories burn".[7][8]

His final novel, "All That Is," was published to excellent reviews in 2013.

Salter's writings—including correspondence, manuscripts, and heavily revised typescript drafts for all of his published works including short stories and screenplays—are archived at the Harry Ransom Center in Austin, Texas.[9]

In the fall of 2014 Salter became the first Kapnick Writer-in-Residence at the University of Virginia.[10] He died on June 19, 2015 in Sag Harbor, New York.[4]

Awards and honors


  • The Hunters (novel, 1957; revised and reissued, 1997)
  • The Arm of Flesh (novel, 1961; republished as Cassada, 2000)
  • A Sport and a Pastime (novel, 1967)
  • Downhill Racer (screenplay, 1969)
  • The Appointment (screenplay, 1969)
  • Three (screenplay, 1969; also directed)
  • Light Years (novel, 1975)
  • Solo Faces (novel, 1979)
  • Threshold (screenplay, 1981)
  • Dusk and Other Stories (short stories, 1988; PEN/Faulkner Award 1989)
  • Still Such (poetry, 1988)
  • Burning the Days (memoir, 1997)
  • Gods of Tin (compilation memoir, 2004; selections from The Hunters, Cassada, and Burning the Days)
  • Last Night (short stories, 2005)
  • There and Then: The Travel Writing of James Salter (essays, 2005)
  • Life Is Meals: A Food Lover's Book of Days (with Kay Eldredge, 2006)
  • "My Lord You" and "Palm Court" (2006)[12]
  • Memorable Days: The Selected Letters of James Salter and Robert Phelps (2010)
  • All That Is (novel, 2013)
  • Collected Stories (2013)


  • "A Final Glory: The Novels of James Salter" reproduced on JSTOR
  • New York State Writers Institute bio
  • interview, Summer 1993, No. 27The Paris Review


James Salter's literature has been featured in the 2014 NSW Higher School Certificate.


  1. ^ VERONGOS, HELEN T. (2015-06-19). "James Salter, a ‘Writer’s Writer’ Short on Sales but Long on Acclaim, Dies at 90". The New York Times (The New York Times Newspaper). Retrieved 2015-07-22. James Salter was born James Horowitz on June 10, 1925, in Passaic, N.J., to L. George Horowitz and the former Mildred Scheff. 
  2. ^ Norris, Mary (2015-02-23). "Holy Writ". The New Yorker XCI (2): 78–90.  
  3. ^ Bowman, David (2005). "An officer and a gentleman". Retrieved 2011-05-30. 
  4. ^ a b c Verongos, Helen T. (June 19, 2015). "James Salter, a ‘Writer’s Writer’ Short on Sales but Long on Acclaim, Dies at 90".  
  5. ^ Vernon, Alex (2004). Soldiers Once And Still: Ernest Hemingway, James Salter, and Tim O'Brien. University of Iowa Press.  , p. 132
  6. ^ Miller, Margaret Winchell (February 1982). "Glimpses of a Secular Holy Land: The Novels of James Salter". The Hollins Critic IXX (1): 1–13. 
  7. ^ "James Salter to Receive 2012 PEN/Malamud Award".  
  8. ^ "James Salter to Receive the 2012 PEN/Malamud Award for Excellence in the Short Story (press release)" (PDF).  
  9. ^ "The Ransom Center Acquires James Salter Archive". 28 February 2000. Retrieved 13 November 2012. 
  10. ^
  11. ^ Dorie Baker (March 4, 2013). "Yale awards $1.35 million to nine writers". YaleNews. Retrieved March 5, 2013. 
  12. ^

Additional reading

  • Dowie, William, James Salter, 1998, Twayne Publishers, ISBN 0-8057-1604-1
  • New Yorker profile, 2013
  • Paumgarten, Nick, Postscript: James Salter, 1925-2015 The New Yorker, June 21, 2015

External links

  • Adam Begley, "A Few Well-Chosen Words", with an extensive biography through 1990
  • David Bowman, "An officer and a gentleman",, June 17, 2005
  • The GuardianObituary in
  • The New York TimesObituary in
  • Works, from
  • Short biography and interview at Random House
  • James Salter at the Internet Movie Database
  • The Ransom Center Acquires James Salter Papers (includes a short biography)
  • A conversation with author James Salter Interview w/ Charlie Rose, 19 September 1997.
  • James Salter author page and article archive from The New York Review of Books
  • Edward Hirsch (Summer 1993). "James Salter, The Art of Fiction No. 133".  
  • Sophie Roiphe "The Greatest Novelist You Haven’t Read", Slate Magazine, March 28, 2013
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