Novelist James Salter dies at 90

Author James Salter in 1997. He died Friday at age 90.

Author James Salter in 1997. He died Friday at age 90.

(Joe Tabacca / FTT )

Author James Salter, 90, has died, his publisher Knopf confirmed to the Associated Press on Friday.

Salter’s reputation as a novelist was made with 1967’s “A Sport and a Pastime,” a story of an American’s affairs in postwar France that was lauded by the New York Times as “a tour de force in erotic realism.”

In the 1975 novel “Light Years” Salter wrote, “Life is weather. Life is meals. Lunches on a blue-checked cloth on which salt has spilled. The smell of tobacco. Brie, yellow apples, wood-handled knives.”

He often considered the connection between writing and life. In his 1997 memoir “Burning the Days” he wrote, “In describing a world you extinguish it,” and, more optimistically, “Life passes into pages if it passes into anything.”


In 2013, at age 88, he surprised many readers with his first novel in 35 years. “All That Is” is a sweeping novel of an American soldier who returns from World War II to work in publishing and, over the course of four decades, seeks love and romance.

Salter was born James Horowitz on June 10, 1925, in New Jersey; his family soon moved to Manhattan, where his father was successful in real estate. He served in the Army Air Corps, first doing routine runs after World War II then, in elite jets, flying more than 100 missions during in the Korean War. His first book “The Hunters,” originally published as a magazine serial, was based on that experience. It didn’t matter that he was still serving: Horowitz was the pilot, while Salter was the pen named he’d given himself as an author.

A lucrative film deal -- it was made starring Robert Mitchum and Robert Wagner -- emboldened Salter to quit the service and write full-time. For a time, he made more headway on film projects, including an award-winning short football documentary, “Team Team Team” than his novels.

In all, Salter wrote the novels “All That Is” (2013), “Solo Faces” (1979), “Light Years” (1975), “A Sport and a Pastime” (1967), “The Arm of Flesh” (1961), and “The Hunters” (1957); the 1988 short story collection “Dusk & Other Stories” which won the PEN/Faulkner Award; and books of nonfiction, including his memoir “Burning the Days” and, with his wife Kay Salter, the 2006 memoir “Life Is Meals: A Food Lover’s Book of Days.”

“Salter is not famous,” Nick Paumgarten observed in the New Yorker in 2013. “Among many writers, and some literary people, he is venerated for his sentence-making, his observational powers, his depictions of sex and valor, and a pair of novels that, in spite of thin sales and obscure subject matter, have more than a puncher’s chance at permanence.”

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