The Current

Author 'condemned' for alleging abuse by J.D. Salinger in 1998 says little has changed despite #MeToo movement

An author who was "excoriated" in 1998 when she published allegations of sexual abuse by J.D. Salinger says that despite the growth of the #MeToo movement, not much has changed in the past 20 years.

Joyce Maynard detailed abusive relationship with Catcher in the Rye author in her 1998 memoir

Joyce Maynard's latest book The Best of Us has just come out in paperback. In 1998, she wrote a book about her relationship with the author J.D. Salinger. (Catherine Sebastian; Bloomsbury USA)

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An author who was "excoriated" in 1998 when she published allegations of sexual abuse by J.D. Salinger says that despite the growth of the #MeToo movement, not much has changed in the past 20 years.

"I was called a predator, I was called a leech woman, the list is pretty long and some of them, I couldn't actually say comfortably on the air," said Joyce Maynard told The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti.

Maynard had an 11-month relationship with Salinger in 1972. At the time, she was 18 years old and he was 53.

Maynard had an 11-month relationship with J.D. Salinger, author of The Catcher in the Rye, in 1972. (Associated Press)

She published details of the relationship 25 years later in her memoir At Home in the World, which cast Salinger in a cruel and controlling light.

She was subsequently accused of taking advantage of Salinger, who is recognized as one of the great American literary figures for his novel Catcher in the Rye.

Writing contracts dried up, as did invitations to literary parties. When she took the stage at one speaking event, an entire row got up and walked out.

Twenty years later, she wishes she "could say that all had changed in the lives of women who come forward with difficult stories, but … that's not the case."

She recently wrote in the New York Times that "it does not appear that enlightenment concerning the abuses of men in power extends retroactively to women who chose to speak long ago, and were shamed and humiliated for doing so." 

She told Tremonti that she suffered "two traumas": "One was what happened when I was 18, and — equally, equally painful — what happened when I was 44, and dragged over the coals, as I was, for speaking," she said.

Maynard believes that if she first revealed the stories of abuse today, the backlash and name-calling might be less intense.

"It's just not the fashion anymore" to call someone in her situation "a predator," she explained.

"But in much subtler and more insidious ways I would say less has changed, than we like to believe."

Maynard and Salinger's relationship began by correspondence. She sold the letters in 1999. (Reuters)

Life with Salinger

Salinger first wrote to Maynard in 1972, after he read an article she wrote for the New York Times. After a year of correspondence, she dropped out of Yale to live with him in New Hampshire.

Salinger was already a notorious recluse; Maynard said that she "tried very hard to to live [his] life of purity and meditation."

They stayed home, watching 16mm black-and-white movies, and she adopted his raw-food diet.

Occasionally they would go outside with Salinger's son Matthew, who was then 13 years old, for pizza, "because he would do anything for his son," she explained.

"When we came home from the pizza and his son was dropped off at his mother's house, he would instruct me to throw up the pizza."

After 11 months, he handed her two $50 bills and told her to leave. She moved to a farm "at the end of a dead-end road in New Hampshire," where she lived alone for several years.

"If any man said to me today the things that he said to me then, I would think a great deal less of the man," she said.

"But an 18-year-old who looks at this man as a kind of god figure, thinks less ... of herself."

Maynard said that after she was interviewed by CBS news anchor Charlie Rose in 1992, he 'kissed her on the mouth.' (Andy Kropa/Invision/Associated Press)

Kissed without consent by Charlie Rose

It would be years before she stopped playing the role of "good girl," she said, citing an example from later in her career.

After Charlie Rose interviewed her in 1992, she said that the CBS News anchor kissed her on the mouth.

"And here is something that I'm not proud of, but this is a complicated part of the story of women: I felt oddly flattered, that I had pleased him, you know, and I think I wouldn't feel that now," she said.

"At that point I was still subscribing to the view that ... this great man deserved my protection and my respect." 

CBS fired Rose in November 2017, after dozens of women alleged sexual misconduct.

Writing 'the forbidden story'

Maynard remained silent about her relationship with Salinger for 25 years. It wasn't until her own daughter's 18th birthday that she had a change of heart.

"I had never felt that I was worthy of anything better than I had received, but when I imagined my daughter, my 18-year-old going through such an experience, all loyalty and sense of obligation to protect shifted to the girl.

"And that was when I gave myself permission to write the forbidden story."

The public reaction to her book, At Home in the World, was "devastating" for her career, she said, and has lasted to this day.

Her latest book, The Best of Us, explores her short-term adoption of two Ethiopian girls (she relinquished care of the siblings to another family after 14 months), and the death of her husband Jim Barringer, three years after they married in 2013.

I wish I could say that all had changed in the lives of women who come forward with difficult stories, but … that's not the case- Joyce Maynard

She took issue with an article in The Atlantic that characterized her as "The Queen of Oversharing."

"What constitutes oversharing?" she asked. "In my case it was telling a painful story, maybe more than people were comfortable hearing." 

"Change happens slowly," she told Tremonti.

"A bunch of movie stars saying ... that their career as a star was, you know, maybe affected by their rebuffing the overtures of a producer is one thing.

"When it gets to women working in the factory, women working in a supermarket, then we'll know that we've really gotten somewhere."

Listen to the full conversation near the top of this page.

Written by Padraig Moran. Produced by Samira Mohyeddin.


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