Jerome David Salinger was born and raised in New York City. He began writing fiction as a teenager. After graduating from the Valley Forge Military Academy in 1936, he began studies at several colleges in the New York City area, but he took no degree. He did, however, take a fiction writing class with Whit Burnett, an editor of Story magazine, who encouraged Salinger and brought out his first published story, "The Young Folks" (1940).
Over the next several years Salinger contributed short stories to popular magazines such as Collier's, Esquire, and The Saturday Evening Post, continuing to produce work even while serving in combat during World War II as a staff sergeant in the United States Army from 1942 to 1946. After returning to civilian life, Salinger continued to achieve success with his short stories, many of which were drawn from his war experiences. During the late 1940s he published work in Mademoiselle, Cosmopolitan, and The New Yorker.
At the age of 31, Salinger gained a major place in American fiction with the publication of his only novel, The Catcher in the Rye. The book quickly earned a reputation as a quintessential American coming-of-age tale. In the early 1960s, Salinger virtually stopped writing for publication and disappeared from public view into his rural New Hampshire home. In an interview that he granted during the 1970s, Salinger maintained that he continues to write daily, and has merely rejected publication as "a terrible invasion of his privacy." Salinger's reclusiveness added to his cult status.