nys writers logo





James Salter
James Salter

New York State Author, 1998-2000

"I'm... someone who likes to rub words in his hand, to turn them around and feel them, to wonder if that really is the best word possible. " - James Salter

James Salter is a novelist and short story writer, and is regarded as one of the finest living practitioners by his fellow writers, by critics, and by the lucky readers familiar with his work. Robert Burke, writing in the Bloomsbury Review, called him, "one of the best writers in this country," and Publishers Weekly, "the author of some of the most esteemed fiction of the past three decades."

Salter's subject is human desire in its many manifestations: erotic longing, jealousy, ambition, curiosity, obsession, the needs to triumph, to achieve perfection, to experience life, to be loved, to merely belong. Relationships between men and women most often provide the settings for these penetrating studies of desire.

Senator Roy Goodman presenting award, Photo by Mark Schmidt Salter's style is admired for its brevity and impressionistic brushwork. Bits of observation, memory, speculation, meditation and dialogue accumulate and resolve suddenly into beautiful wholes. In the words of the Dictionary of Literary Biography, Salter "constantly strives for such illuminations, usually the effect of a final sentence that crystallizes what has gone before."

James Salter was bom in 1925 and raised in New York City. He attended West Point, graduated in 1945, and served in the Army Air Force as a fighter pilot. He resigned his commission in 1957 in order to devote his energies to writing and screenwriting shortly after publication of The Hunters (1956), a first novel based on his more than one hundred combat missions during the Korean War.

James SalterSalter regards The Hunters, and his second Air Force novel, The Arm of Flesh (1961), as stages in a literary apprenticeship that culminated in his first important novel, A Sport and a Pastime (1967). The novel recounts the erotic awakening of a young American college dropout in France. Writing in the New York Times Book Review, Reynolds Price called it, "as nearly perfect as any American fiction I know." Webster Schott, also writing in the Times, wrote, "A Sport and a Pastime slowly explodes... It's a tour de force in erotic realism."

Salter's next book, Light Years (1975), records the slow uncoupling of a marriage between a New York architect and his wife in their house on the Hudson River. Writer Brendan Gill proclaimed, "Among contemporary novelists, I can think of no one who has written a novel more beautiful than Light Years. James Salter is the master of a mandarin style that is not a whit less virile for being exquisite. With never a word too many or too few, [Salter] pictures the world in all its perishable loveliness."

James Salter, photo by Marl SchmidtSolo Faces (1979) tells the story of an American climber obsessed with a mountain in the French Alps, the Dru, thought to be unscalable. Michael Dirda, writing in The Washington Post, called it, "A beautifully composed book that will remind readers of Camus and Saint-Exupery. It exemplifies the purity it describes." John Irving proclaimed Solo Faces, "A terrific novel-- compelling, sad, wise, and kind-hearted. Mr. Salter’s prose is rare and stunning."

Salter's 1988 collection, Dusk and Other Stories, received the PEN/Faulkner Award. Ned Rorem, writing in the Washington Post, ranked his stories with the works of Flannery O'Connor, Paul Bowles, Tennessee Williams and John Cheever. New York Times critic Michiko Kakutani said that Salter's stories, ". . . can suggest in a single sentence, an individual's entire history, the complex interplay of longing and fear, hope and need, that has brought about the present." Richard Eder, writing in the Los Angeles Times, called the collection, "Terse, expertly written, resplendent... it will blow your heart out."

Salter's memoir, Burning the Days (1997), recounts his rich and varied life, including his infatuation with poetry as a youth on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, his alienation as a cadet at West Point, his fifteen years in the military, his love affair with and long residency in Europe, and his career as a writer. Also included are Salter's experiences as a screenwriter: he wrote the acclaimed Downhill Racer (1969), which starred Robert Redford; a 1962 documentary short, Team, Team, Team, took first prize at the Venice Film Festival.

James Salter is married to playwright Kay Eldredge, and divides his time between Bridgehampton, New York and Colorado. He was a visiting guest at the NYS Writers Institute December 4, 1997.

". . . his best work... will take the reader's breath away because of sudden glimpses deep into the pool of life. Indeed it is hard to read a Salter story or novel without being ambushed by recognitions, things one knew instinctively but never thought about or acted on." William Dowie in Dictionary of Literary Biography

"Salter is that rare writer who takes us inside worlds we may never be able to experience first hand."
San Francisco Chronicle on Light Years

"Dusk shimmers with magic. Salter's is real art, elegant and invigorating: there's not a flat, affectless note in his repertoire."
Cleveland Plain Dealer on Dusk and Other Stories

"James Salter is, simply, one of the best writers in this country."
Robert Burke, The Bloomsbury Review

Books by James Salter:

Dusk Light Years Solo Faces Light Years

Previous Articles and Information:
Selected Bibliography
Writers Online Magazine Article
Times Union Article

For additional information, contact the Writers Institute at 518-442-5620 or online at https://www.albany.edu/writers-inst.