Jerome David Salinger was the second child—his sister, Doris, was born eight years before him—and only son of Sol and Miriam Jillich Salinger, a Jewish father and a Christian mother. His father was a successful importer of hams and cheeses. Salinger was a serious child who kept mostly to himself. His IQ test score was above average, and his grades, at public schools in the upper West Side of Manhattan, were in the “B” range. Socially, his experiences at summer camp were more successful than in the Manhattan public schools. At Camp Wigwam, in Harrison, Maine, he was voted at age eleven “the most popular actor of 1930.”
In 1934, Salinger entered Valley Forge Military Academy, in Pennsylvania, a school resembling Pencey Prep in The Catcher in the Rye. Salinger, however, was more successful at Valley Forge than Holden had been at Pencey, and in June, 1936, Valley Forge gave him his only diploma. He was literary editor of the Academy yearbook and wrote a poem that was set to music and sung at the school.
In 1937, he enrolled in summer school at New York University but left for Austria and Poland to try working in his father’s meat import business. In 1938, after returning to the United States, he briefly attended Ursinus College in Collegeville, Pennsylvania. There, he wrote a column, “Skipped Diploma,” which featured film reviews for the college newspaper. In 1939, he signed up for a short-story course at Columbia University, given by Whit Burnett, editor of Story magazine. In 1940, his first short story, “The Young Folks,” was published in the March/April...
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