Wisconsin Author Trip: Meeting J.D. Salinger

Now 64, Jim Krawczyk was in his mid-20s when he made a journey to see J.D. Salinger.

hide captionNow 64, Jim Krawczyk was in his mid-20s when he made a journey to see J.D. Salinger.

StoryCorps

Jim Krawczyk grew up in Milwaukee, where he fell in love with books.

Like many young readers, his favorite writer was J.D. Salinger. And in the late 1960s, Jim Krawczyk decided to go on a road trip to meet his hero, in Cornish, the small New Hampshire town that the celebrated recluse calls home.

So he presented himself at the building that served as the town's post office and general store. Krawczyk explained his mission to the man behind the counter.

"My name's Jim Krawczyk, I'm from Wisconsin. I was wondering if you could tell me where J.D. Salinger lives."

"You're never going to see him," was the answer. Even grocery deliveries were conducted by leaving the packages and picking up an envelope.

But Krawczyk spoke to a retired schoolteacher who gave him a good lead: directions into the woods outside of town, where he followed a dirt road through mountains to the house he recognized from a Salinger biography.

But instead of the author, Krawczyk found Salinger's wife. Standing on her porch, he asked about a meeting.

"Anything he says, he says in his books," was her answer — punctuated by a slammed door.

But as he turned to leave, Krawczyk heard the door open again. The woman stepped out onto the porch.

"Him and I are divorced. And he lives across the road," she said.

Krawczyk drove into Salinger's driveway and parked, walked up to the front door and knocked.

As he stood there straining to see the figure standing on the other side of the copper screen door, a blast of thunder crashed out, and it began to rain.

"You'd better come inside," said the man who was standing inside the house. Krawczyk came in, and they spoke in Salinger's kitchen. As he recalls, he was not offered a seat or a cup of coffee.

Krawczyk told him who he was, and he asked Salinger if he'd been to Wisconsin. He had, the author said — sometime during the war. Then Krawczyk asked about Catcher in the Rye.

"Did you think it would be such a popular book?" he asked.

"It's been a nightmare," Krawczyk recalls Salinger answering. The writer did not elaborate.

Many of the usual questions that a fan might ask — a request to see where Salinger wrote the fiction that spurred Krawczyk to make his trek, for instance — were not asked. Instead, he settled for a handshake.

"I didn't want to be one of his phonies that he writes about," Krawczyk said.

"This is somebody that nobody meets. Nobody gets to see him. And I was in his kitchen," Krawczyk said.

"I thought, 'Man, this is the best vacation I ever had.'"

Credit: Produced for 'Morning Edition' by Michael Garofalo. The senior producer for StoryCorps is Sarah Kramer.

Related NPR Stories

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and Terms of Use. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

Support comes from: