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The Art of Fiction

James Salter. Introduction by John D. Casey

BUY Cloth · 120 pp. · 4.75 × 7.25 · ISBN 9780813939056 · $19.95 · Apr 2016
BUY Ebook · 120 pp. · ISBN 9780813939063 · $19.95 · Apr 2016

James Salter’s exalted place in American letters is based largely on the intense admiration of other writers, but his work resonates far beyond the realm of fellow craftsmen, addressing themes--youth, war, erotic love, marriage, life abroad, friendship--that speak to us all.

Following the publication of his first novel, Salter left behind a military career of great promise to write full-time and--through decades of searching, exacting work--became one of American literature’s master stylists. Only months before he died, at the age of eighty-nine, he agreed to serve as the first Kapnick Writer-in-Residence at the University of Virginia, where he composed and delivered the three lectures presented in this book and introduced by his friend and fellow novelist, National Book Award-winning author John Casey.

Salter speaks to us here with an easy intimacy, sharing his unceasing enchantment with the books that made up his reading life, including works by Balzac, Flaubert, Babel (whose prose is "like a handful of radium"), Dreiser, Céline, Faulkner. These talks provide an invaluable opportunity to see the way in which a great writer reads. They also offer a candid look at the writing life--the rejection letters, not one but two negative reviews in the New York Times for the same book, writing in the morning or at night and worrying about money during the long afternoons.

Salter raises the question, Why does one write? For wealth? For admiration, or a sense of "importance"? Confronting a blank sheet that always offers too many choices, practicing a vocation that often demands one write instead of live, the answer for Salter was creating a style that captured experience, in a world where anything not written down fades away.

Kapnick Foundation Distinguished Writer-in-Residence Lectures


A confident precision is always there--whether Jim is writing about sexual longing, or when his subject is flying combat missions in Korea. What Jim believed, he was always able to express succinctly: 'Style is the entire writer.' These lectures make me miss him--his generous but undoubting voice.

John Irving

A last and very generous gift from the great James Salter. The reader feels his reverence for literature on every page, as well as his legendary precision. Any aspiring writer should read this book, if only to get a taste of how a master thinks and feels: specifically, poetically, always mindful of the necessary mystery at the heart of great art.

George Saunders

This is a slender book, but anyone who reveres the work of James Salter — a sodality that includes John Irving, Richard Ford, George Saunders and John Casey— will want to read it and keep it around. Here one of the great prose stylists of our time reflects on writing, favorite authors (Isaac Babel, Nabokov, Bellow), and the connection between life and fiction. Salter closes with his epigraph to his last novel, All That Is: 'There comes a time when you realize that everything is a dream, and only those things preserved in writing have any possibility of being real.'

Washington Post

[R]eaders will be inspired and heartened by ​Salter's candid thoughts on the inevitable rejection, criticism, and struggle with best practices that accompany the writer's life. Salter also shares the books and authors that informed him throughout the years, and his personal beliefs in the value of the written word.

Poets & Writers

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