Jerome David Salinger was born on January 1, 1919 – January 27, 2010) was an American writer best known for his 1951 novel The Catcher in the Rye. Before its publication, Salinger published several short stories in Story magazine and served in World War II. In 1948, his critically acclaimed story "A Perfect Day for Banana fish" appeared in The New Yorker, which published much of his later work.
Salinger's mother, Marie (née Jelich), was born in Atlantic, Iowa, of German, Irish, and Scottish descent, "but changed her first name to Miriam to appease her in-laws" and considered herself Jewish after marrying Salinger's father. Salinger did not learn that his mother was not of Jewish ancestry until just after he celebrated his bar mitzvah. He had one sibling, an older sister, Doris (1912–2001).
In his youth, Salinger attended public schools on the West Side of Manhattan. In 1932, the family moved to Park Avenue, and Salinger enrolled at the McBurney School, a nearby private school. Salinger had trouble fitting in there and took measures to conform, such as calling himself Jerry. His family called him Sonny. At McBurney, he managed the fencing team, wrote for the school newspaper and appeared in plays.
He "showed an innate talent for drama," though his father opposed the idea of his becoming an actor. His parents then enrolled him at Valley Forge Military Academy in Wayne, Pennsylvania. Salinger began writing stories "under the covers [at night], with the aid of a flashlight". He was the literary editor of the class yearbook, Crossed Sabre's, and participated in the glee club, aviation club, French club, and the Non-Commissioned Officers Club.
In the fall of 1938, Salinger attended Ursinus College in Collegeville, Pennsylvania, and wrote a column called "skipped diploma," which included movie reviews. He dropped out after one semester. In 1939, Salinger attended the Columbia University School of General Studies in Manhattan, where he took a writing class taught by Whit Burnett, longtime editor of Story magazine. According to Burnett, Salinger did not distinguish himself until a few weeks before the end of the second semester, at which point "he suddenly came to life" and completed three stories. Burnett told Salinger that his stories were skillful and accomplished, accepting "The Young Folks," a vignette about several aimless youths, for publication in Story. Salinger's debut short story was published in the magazine's March–April 1940 issue. Burnett became Salinger's mentor, and they corresponded for several years.