BOSTON — It was the summer of 1946 when a young and war-fatigued J.D. Salinger reached out to another writer whose career had also been shaped by war, a writer he had arranged to meet while both had been in Europe.
"The talks I had with you here were the only hopeful minutes of the whole business," Salinger writes at the close of his letter to Ernest Hemingway, which will be displayed publicly for the first time on Sunday at the John F. Kennedy Library in Boston.
The letter, which has been available to and referenced by scholars over the years, is part of the Ernest Hemingway collection that has been kept at the JFK Library for 30 years. It offers a fascinating glimpse of a sardonic Salinger, then serving in the Army, in the period before the 1951 publication of "Catcher in the Rye."
The author even jokingly compares himself with Catcher in the Rye protagonist Holden Caulfield, who had appeared as a character in earlier short stories.
Salinger died Jan. 27 at age 91 at his home in New Hampshire. JFK Library director Thomas Putnam said renewed interest in the reclusive author was one reason why the library decided to display the letter during a presentation of the PEN/Hemingway Award, given annually to a first-time fiction writer.
Salinger addresses the letter "Dear Poppa," a Hemingway nickname, signaling a friendship possibly beyond just casual. He signs it "Jerry Salinger." (Salinger's full name was Jerome David.)
Writing from a hospital in Nuremburg, Germany, Salinger offers that nothing is wrong with him except "an almost constant state of despondency," and that his purpose in writing was "to talk to someone sane." The doctors, he wrote, had quizzed him about his sex life and his childhood, a suggestion they were employing Freudian tactics to get at the root of his melancholy.
Salinger asks Hemingway how his latest novel is coming and implores him not to sell it to a movie producer: "As Chairman of your many fan clubs, I know I speak for all the members when I say Down with Gary Cooper."
Of his own fledgling career: "I've written a couple more of my incestuous stories, and several poems, and part of a play." Possibly foretelling publication of "Catcher in the Rye," he relates that he has a "very sensitive novel in mind," and while he wishes to get out of the Army so he can pursue his writing, he worries that a psychiatric discharge might label him a "jerk" and damage his career.
Putnam said there was no indication that Hemingway answered the letter.
"Because we don't have other letters, I assume there wasn't other correspondence. There may have been and it may just not be here, but Hemingway was very good about keeping his correspondence so it could be the only letter between the two," he said.
Hemingway's widow, Mary, donated the letters to the library partly out of gratitude to the Kennedy Administration, which had helped arrange her to travel to Cuba and retrieve his papers after her husband's death in 1961, Putnam explained. The papers are kept in a room at the library that is not generally accessible to visitors.
Hemingway's son, Patrick, will attend the Sunday ceremony to honor Brigid Pasulka for her first novel, "A Long, Long Time Ago and Essentially True."