Following the death of iconic American author J.D. Salinger yesterday, publisher Roger Lathbury recalls a book deal with the eccentric writer which went sour: “In 1988, Roger Lathbury, an English professor at George Mason University and owner of a small literary publishing outfit based in his house in Alexandria, decided on a lark to write to J.D. Salinger, asking if he could publish ‘Hapworth 16, 1924,’ Salinger’s last published work, which appeared as a story in the New Yorker in 1965 and never made it into book form. Amazingly, Salinger wrote back promptly, saying, essentially, ‘I’ll think about it.’ Then, nothing. For eight years. Until July 26, 1996, when Lathbury, just having completed teaching his morning classes, picked up the phone in his home office. ‘Here was the voice, ‘I would like to speak to Mr. Lathbury,’ ‘ Lathbury recalled. ‘People don’t know how small the operation is here. His voice had a New York accent, and sounded like the recording of Walt Whitman that’s available. He identified who he was — I don’t remember if he said, ‘This is J.D. Salinger’ or ‘This is Salinger’ — and I said: ‘Well, um . . . I am delighted that you called.’’ To his amazement, Lathbury’s tiny Orchises Press had itself a deal with the reclusive novelist. But only briefly. Half a year later, with the book nearing publication, Salinger pulled the plug on the project.”
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