Report by Engram Wilkinson:
In her welcoming remarks for the evening, Professor Molly Rothenberg called James Salter “a national literary treasure.” James Salter, Tulane University’s Fall 2010 visiting writer in the “Writer’s Writer” series, took the stage after a more personal introduction by creative writing Professor Thomas Beller. “There’s something about Salter’s prose,” Beller said, “that lingers in the imagination. His writing has a magic feel, where individual lines are talismans.”
Salter shuffled onto the stage and comically proclaimed, “I won’t fulfill all that.” As audience members chuckled and speculated as to what story or excerpt was inside the manila folder Salter brought to the podium he said, “I’m going to read something new tonight. It’s called “Charisma.””
The unpublished short story traces the observations of male and female characters around the relationship between Paolo, whose face is “beyond age,” and Leila, “whose beauty was ennobling.” In characteristically deft strokes Salter painted the volcanic relationship between these two characters, his narrator making the observation: “To know someone, you must know what they fear.” Salter’s narrator said later of Paolo, “you could not enter his world without him.” The same could be said for Salter the author who, like his character, “ignores ordinary reality, the kind everyone knows.”
Following the reading, Salter conducted an interview with Professor Kevin Rabalais, answering questions on his history as a writer, serviceman, and screenwriter. “I spent about twelve years in the service, twelve in the movies, and twelve writing,” said Salter. When asked specifically about his novels and short stories, Salter had to say: “There’s a little bit of luck involved in getting published. When you’re young you have the energy to write—to stay up late into the night.” Rabalais asked of Salter’s early days as a pilot secretly writing fiction, keeping it, “his third life,” hidden away in a drawer. “What kept me writing?” Salter replied. “Well, you just can’t stop.”
James Salter is Tulane’s visiting Writer’s Writer for the Fall 2010 semester. His novels include A Sport and a Pastime, Light Years and Solo Faces. Dusk, one of his short story collections, received the PEN/Faulkner Award. He was elected to The American Academy of Arts and Letters in 2000.