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SONYA CHUNG -- All You Have is What You Remember_ the Millions Interviews James Salter

SONYA CHUNG -- All You Have is What You Remember_ the Millions Interviews James Salter

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All You Have Is What You Remember:The Millions Interviews James Salter
 posted at 6:00 am on August 14, 20127
In January 2010, I wrote a piecehere about sex writing
 
specifically, sex writing by the “representative” males of two
distinct literary generations.
Katie Roiphe
 , in a
New York Times BookReview
 ,had asserted that today’s young literary men have lost
 
their belief in the power of sexuality to ignite, and to immortalize.Her observations resonated with me, and I argued in response thatwe should look not to
Roth/Bellow/Mailer/Updike
 
(Roiphe’s
touchstones) for this lost potency, but rather to
James Salter
.
Of Roiphe’s Great Male Narcissists (the GMNs,
as
David Foster Wallace
coined them), only PhilipRoth is still alive, the kid among them, now 79. JimSalter, on the other hand, turned 87 this year; and
what a year (or two) it’s been: in late 2010, Salterreceived PEN USA’s Lifetime Achievement Award. In
the spring of 2011, he was presented (by
RobertRedford
) with the
Paris Review
’s Hadada Award about which Saltersaid in his acceptance speech, “This is my Stockholm.” A month
later,
 
adocumentary focusing
 
 both on that most well-known of his novels, as well as his lifelonglove affair with France
premiered in New York City. Lastsummer, Salter was announced the winner of the Rea Award for theShort Story
an honor he shares with
Updike
 ,
Joyce Carol Oates
 ,
Grace Paley
 ,
Donald Barthelme
 ,
Alice Munro
 ,
Deborah Eisenberg
 ,
Mavis Gallant
 ,
Eudora Welty
… and, well, just about every modern
master of the form you can think of. Last but not least, Salter was therecipient of the 2012 PEN/Malamud Award, in recognition, again
 
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(and again, in good company), of high excellence in the art of theshort story.For many years, Jim Salter has
 been deemed a writers’ writer
 
adubious branding
but now, finally, itseems he is receiving his due respect inthe broader literary community(Stockholm notwithstanding). And allthis while continuing to maintain a busy speaking/travel schedule, as well as write critical essays for the
New York Review of Books
 , an introductory essay to
Jacques Bonnet
’s
 
 ,and (drum-roll) the final draft of 
 ,his sixth novel, due out from Knopf in April 2013.WhenOpen Road Media contacted
 
me about conducting a Q&A with Salter
on the occasion of the release of
 and
(Salter’s
 
fifth novel, about a talented, disillusionedrock climber) in e-book format this past June
I did not hesitate to say yes. They
wrote: “Our focus is on the lasting resonance of his writing.” I’d
 been corresponding now and again with Salter (I interviewed andwrote aprofile of him in 2011, published in
Tin House
 , and also
 
spoke about his work in the
Sport
documentary), and all this talk of
“lasting resonance” made me think back to that first email I received
from him, shortly after my 2010 essay was posted:
Thanks very much for your essay, which I just read, a bitlate
 
apparently we’re deeper in the woods here than I thought. I
was also interested in the responses [comments], especially thereferences to other books. I agree with the comment about
Hemingway
always writing about sex, or something to that effect,meaning it was a subtext. He wrote a startlingly sensual English,very male and very sensual, alive to the senses, and sex, as we liketo call it, is sensationally alive, both in the flesh and/or in the
mind. I don’t like Hemingway, in part because he looms and also Idon’t like the man. He’s a type you run into.
 
 
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Women have more or less tipped the cart over
you
probably don’t realize that because you’re, I assume, just a kid —
 
and some confusion is the result. I don’t mean that it shouldn’thave been tipped, there is no should or shouldn’t. I always liked
 
Robert Phelps’s
citation
he must have been quoting someone
first the flesh, then the spirit.Again, with thanks. JS
Two-and-a-half years ago, being new to the literarycommunity (my first novel was published in March of that year), anemail from the likes of James Salter came as a shock. Was it reallyfrom him? I read it over a few times, and clearly it was
theimpeccable manners, the gorgeous compression of idea andsentiment, the wry humor. I responded immediately, awkwardly,and a kind of unlikely correspondence began
 
 between me, “just
a
kid,” and JS.
 Only now has it occurred to me to wonder what made himwrite that first email; or, rather
with simple good manners as theobvious explanation
what that essay might have meant to him atthat particular time. That a young writer (and female
many of
Salter’s acolytes, I’ve noticed, are male), engaged in online literary
conversation, had elevated him to an eminent place in the canon
 
above the writers who’d out
-famed him, strictly speaking
musthave spoken directly to his ambitions. Were there others like me
 young women and men, and generations after that
who wouldcontinue to read, and write about, his work? he may havewondered.The mounting evidence of the last two years would suggest aresounding yes.Without further ado, following is a brief account, on the
occasion of celebrating his work’s “lasting resonance,” of what
 James Salter thinks these days about literary ambition, therelationship between life and art, heroes, and contemporaryliterature.* * *

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