The writer James Salter has died aged 90.
Paul Baggaley, Publisher at Picador, shares his memories of the great American novelist:
“One of the greatest privileges I’ve had at Picador was to be the last British publisher of James Salter.
“I had first encountered James Salter’s writing when working for the Harvill Press, where Christopher Maclehose was reissuing his writing with great thoughtfulness. I became aware of the exquisite range of his writing from the remarkable and shocking short novel, A Sport and a Pastime, to the visceral and original memoir, Burning the Days. And then I read everything else, admiring above all the great novel Light Years and the precise, pure prose of the stories.
“In 2013, Picador published his last great novel, All That Is
, a remarkable late work which was met with deserved ecstatic reviews. We also put together his Collected Stories
, a volume that showed his mastery of this form. And last year we published a wonderful culinary book of days, Life is Meals
that he wrote and compiled with his beloved wife, Kay Eldredge. The publication of All That Is
was a joyous occasion. Jim and Kay travelled to the UK, accompanied by his devoted agent Binky Urban, attending festivals and charming everyone they met. His launch party was attended by several generations of admirers, particularly writers, and it was a fitting celebration of a life’s work. Jim was sometimes tagged a writer’s writer, not always the most helpful accolade, particularly in terms of driving sales, but in Salter’s case, it simply meant that other fine writers were in awe of what Jim could do. Richard Ford memorably said: ‘It is an article of faith among readers of fiction that James Salter writes American sentences better than anybody writing today’.
“Jim still cut an unfeasibly glamorous figure, born into a much classier era. He had lived the life other American writers dreamed of: he had flown over 100 combat missions for the US air force in Korea; he had written screenplays that were made into Hollywood films; and at the same time he was slowly, meticulously putting together this truly impressive body of work. His death takes away another great writer from a great era of American literary fiction. I believe that James Salter stands alongside William Maxwell, Richard Yates and John Williams, writers whose work will resonate with readers for as long as fiction is read.”
James Salter: 10 June 1925 – 19 June 2015