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Famous author kicks off Literary Festival

Will Kearney | Tuesday, February 14, 2006

The annual Notre Dame Literary Festival, once host to distinguished writers such as Kurt Vonnegut and Norman Mailer, continued its tradition of drawing acclaimed authors Monday night with a lecture by James Salter.

Salter, the renowned novelist and short story writer who has been hailed as “one of the best writers in this country” by critic Robert Burke, was the featured author for the first day of the festival. Salter shared some of his critically esteemed work along with insights on writing with an audience in the Oak Room.

Salter began the lecture with a reading of his short story “Common.” The story was meant to highlight Salter’s distinct style of using the relationships between men and women to explore the intricacies of human desire.

Following the reading, Salter spoke about why success among literary critics does not always translate to popular success.

“Fame is a vapor, popularity an accident,” Salter said. “You can only write what you are.”

Salter drove home the point that although an author’s writing can and should develop over time, the essence of his or her writing always will retain its own identity. The 82-year-old Salter, who still has not received widespread popular acclaim, was upbeat about the prospect of success for himself and all aspiring writers.

“You always have the possibility for success, even if you have never succeeded before,” he said.

Salter, an ex-fighter pilot and veteran of the Korean War, also discussed the importance of drawing from personal experience when writing.

“In ‘Common’ alone, there are twelve people who I can think of that gave me ideas for parts of the story,” he said.

Salter explained how his writing is sustained by a well of life experiences combined with self-confidence – a quality “they don’t teach you in the classroom.” It is this motivating and sustaining self-confidence that Salter said he wished to impart with his audience.

The author also said the spirit of the Literary Festival and of his own motivation to continue to write is encapsulated in his favorite quotation from writer Samuel Johnson: “The chief glory of every people depends on its authors.”

The lecture series of the Literary Festival continues tonight at 5:30 in LaFortune Ballroom with Tasha Alexander and runs through Thursday.