Controversial J.D. Salinger Bio, PBS Doc in the Works For 2013

Catcher in the Rye Cover JD Salinger Inset - P 2013
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Catcher in the Rye Cover JD Salinger Inset - P 2013

"Many of us who read 'The Catcher in the Rye' have, at some point in our lives, wished we could know the author better. Now, we finally can,” says S&S publisher Jonathan Karp, about the book which also will feature a companion documentary.

Simon & Schuster has acquired the rights to The Private War of J.D. Salinger, the anticipated biography of The Catcher in the Rye author J.D. Salinger by David Shields and Shane Salerno.

Publisher Jonathan Karp announced the book will be published in September.

Salerno also directed a documentary film that was acquired Monday by the PBS series American Masters. The series will air Salinger in January 2014 as its 200th episode. It is unusual for PBS to acquire an outside documentary to air on American Masters, as most projects are commissioned in house.

Shields and Salerno have been working on the biography for more than eight years. It includes interviews with more than 150 sources who either worked directly with the famously reclusive Salinger, had a personal relationship with him or were influenced by his work. The authors have shaped the interviews into an oral biography, which will be accompanied by never-before-seen photos of Salinger. 

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“The myth that people have read about and believed for 60 years about J.D. Salinger is one of someone too pure to publish, too sensitive to be touched,” said Salerno. “We replace the myth of Salinger with an extraordinarily complex, deeply contradictory human being. Our book offers a complete revaluation and reinterpretation of the work and the life.”

Salinger died in 2010, 30 years after his last interview and 45 years after his last published work. The iconic Catcher in the Rye was published in 1951 and has sold more than 120 million copies worldwide.

“We are honored to be the publisher of what we believe will be the foundational book on one of the most beloved and most puzzling figures of the 20th century,” said Karp. “Many of us who read The Catcher in the Rye have, at some point in our lives, wished we could know the author better. Now, we finally can.”

Karp and senior editor Jofie Ferrari-Adler, who will edit the biography, have been pursuing the project for several years. They acquired the rights through a private negotiation with Salerno before any other publisher even had a chance to read the manuscript.

"This is a truly revelatory work, and one that transcends literary biography to investigate the larger story of the legacy of World War II,” Ferrari-Adler said. "Through the prism of Salinger’s life and his experience at war, the authors are presenting a personal history of the 20th century."

Shields is the author of 14 books, which have been translated into 15 languages and won numerous awards, including the PEN/Revson Award and the PEN Syndicated Fiction Award. Salerno has also co-written several films, including Oliver Stone’s Savages.

Simon & Schuster will be selling the international rights to The Private War of J.D. Salinger at the London Book Fair in April.

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