Sarah Sheard commented on Timothy Dugdale’s review of Salinger in the current issue of NC and brought to my attention this fascinating NPR story about a young writer and her correspondence with J. D. Salinger. The young writer in question was Marjorie Sheard, Sarah’s aunt. Wonderful to get this cross-reference, the little story, the moment. You can also read Tim’s review and view Sarah’s comments.
Salinger’s first letter to Marjorie Sheard is dated Sept. 4, 1941.
“Dear Miss Sheard,” he writes. “Your warm, bright letter just reached me. Thanks very much. It’s unfair to authors that you write only to Aldous Huxley and me.”
Sheard had written to praise stories of Salinger’s that she’d seen in Esquire and Collier’s magazines. Like Salinger, she was in her early 20s and wanted to write fiction. He gives her advice: “Why don’t you try writing something for Mademoiselle or one of the other feminine magazines? Seems to me you have the instincts to avoid the usual Vassar-girl tripe those mags publish.”
He put his parents’ address (1133 Park Ave., on 91st Street in Manhattan) in the upper-right corner. He has typed the letter neatly — no cross-outs or erasures.
“He would have made a great secretary,” Kiely says.
Salinger, clearly thrilled to get a fan letter this early in his writing career, ends his note this way: “I hope you’ll always read my work with pleasure. So glad you liked the Esquire piece. I write for Marjorie Sheard and a few others. The fact that Esquire’s circulation is 600,000, and Collier’s is in millions is purely coincidental.”
Kiely thinks these letters reveal who Salinger was before Catcher in the Rye made him a literary star.