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James Salter dies; celebrated writer was 90

Author James Salter at his home in Bridgehampton

Author James Salter at his home in Bridgehampton on March 30, 2005. Photo Credit: AP / Ed Betz

James Salter, the prizewinning author acclaimed for his sophisticated, granular prose and sobering insights in "Light-years," "A Sport and a Pastime" and other fiction, has died at age 90.

Salter collapsed and died Friday while at a gym in Sag Harbor, according to his wife, Kay Eldredge.

Salter, a lifelong brooder about impermanence and mortality, was the kind of writer whose language exhilarated readers even when relating the most distressing narratives, from "A Sport and a Pastime" to the stories in the 2005 release "Last Night" to the 2013 novel "All That Is."

Salter, a native of Manhattan, didn't enjoy great commercial success but was highly admired by critics. He won the PEN/Faulkner prize for the 1988 collection "Dusk and Other Stories" and received two lifetime achievement honors for short story writing, the Rea Award and the PEN/Malamud prize.

"Reading Salter taught me to boil down my writing to its essence," his peer Jhumpa Lahiri once wrote. "To insist upon the right words, and to remember that less is more. That great art can be wrought from quotidian life."

Whether the subject was love or war, Salter wondered how we change and how we don't change, whether there is any connection between our young selves and our older selves. He wrote long enough to watch himself evolve, as if his works comprised a kind of parallel life he simultaneously observed and created.

"If you were the same person in your 40s as you were as a high school sophomore you would be a very strange creation," he told the AP in 2005.

Salter was born James Horowitz but as a writer became James Salter. He was an Air Force pilot, a swimming pool salesman and a filmmaker, his credits including the documentary "Team Team Team" and the feature film "Three," starring Sam Waterston.

The son of a real estate salesman who had graduated from West Point, Salter recalled in his 1997 memoir, "Burning the Days," that he was an "obedient" child who was "close to my parents and in awe of my teachers."

"A Sport and a Pastime" was a brief, poetic, almost supernaturally sexy novel about a Yale dropout and his French girlfriend. Rejected by several publishers before George Plimpton agreed to release it, in 1967, through The Paris Review, the novel is now regarded as a classic work of erotic literature.


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