James Salter’s exalted place in American letters is based largely
on the intense admiration of other writers, but his work resonates far beyond the realm of fellow craftsmen, addressing themes--youth, war, erotic love, marriage, life abroad,
friendship--that speak to us all.
Following the publication of his first
novel, Salter left behind a military career of great promise to write full-time and--through
decades of searching, exacting work--became one of American literature’s master stylists.
Only months before he died, at the age of eighty-nine, he agreed to serve as the first Kapnick
Writer-in-Residence at the University of Virginia, where he composed and delivered the three
lectures presented in this book and introduced by his friend and fellow novelist, National Book
Award-winning author John Casey.
Salter speaks to us here with an easy
intimacy, sharing his unceasing enchantment with the books that made up his reading life,
including works by Balzac, Flaubert, Babel (whose prose is “like a handful of radium”), Dreiser, Céline, Faulkner. These talks provide an invaluable opportunity to see the way in which a great writer reads. They also offer a candid look at the writing
life--the rejection letters, not one but two negative reviews in the New York Times for the same
book, writing in the morning or at night and worrying about money during the long
Salter raises the question, Why does one write? For wealth? For admiration, or a sense of “importance”? Confronting a blank sheet that always offers
too many choices, practicing a vocation that often demands one write instead of live, the answer
for Salter was creating a style that captured experience, in a world where anything not written
down fades away.
Kapnick Foundation Distinguished