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Reclusive Writer J.D. Salinger Has Book At Last After 34 Years, Novella To Be Published

Fri., Jan. 17, 1997

The first J.D. Salinger book in 34 years is expected to be published next month, but instead of the long-awaited update of the reclusive author’s Glass family saga, the new title will be old stuff.

Roger Lathbury, editor and publisher of Orchises Press in Alexandria, Va., confirmed that a 1965 Salinger novella, “Hapworth 16, 1924,” that originally appeared in The New Yorker magazine, was scheduled for February release by his company.

He also indicated that talking about the book was nerve-racking - no surprise given Salinger’s reputation as a sensitive and sometimes difficult fellow.

Lathbury would not discuss the number of advance orders he had received for the book, how many copies he intended to print, or why, after such a long absence from the literary scene, Salinger was doing business with a small press that, since it started in 1983, has published only 60 titles and never had anything resembling a best seller.

As to rumors that Lathbury, who also teaches English at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., had a remarkable sit-down meeting at a Washington, D.C., hotel last year with Salinger, the editor responded firmly: “No comment. Goodbye.”

One source in New York who heard an account of the meeting said Salinger was concerned about every aspect of the project, including cover design, typeface and even the manner in which his name would be printed on the spine of the book.

Salinger’s agent, Phyllis Westberg, president of the Manhattan firm of Harold Ober Associates, would not confirm that the author and editor met in Washington. She would say only that her client had agreed to allow Orchises to publish “Hapworth 16, 1924,” a story that purports to be a letter from summer camp written by Seymour Glass - one of Salinger’s most arresting and mysterious characters - at the fictional age of 7.

Why Orchises? “I don’t know,” said Westberg.

Salinger, 78, author of the much-beloved 1951 novel “Catcher in the Rye,” is a resident of rural New Hampshire and is notoriously unavailable to the public and press. His last book, published by Little, Brown in 1963, “Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters; and Seymour: an Introduction,” was a compilation of two other New Yorker stories.

At The New Yorker, fiction and literary editor Bill Buford said in a statement: “We are delighted by the prospect of seeing a story by one of America’s great story writers made available to readers again.”

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