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Old J.D. Salinger stories revived by new illustrations

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For the first time in 70 years, three of J.D. Salinger’s earliest stories are available to the public — and new illustrations helped make it possible.

The recently released collection, “J.D. Salinger: Three Early Stories,” comes from the Devault-Graves Agency, an indie publisher in Memphis, Tenn., that carefully tiptoed around the Salinger estate’s copyright. Before he died in 2010, the famously reclusive author of “Catcher in the Rye” (1951) spent the last decades of his life insisting — sometimes in court — that no one quote from his letters, republish his uncollected work or use his famous characters.

Devault-Graves’s legal strategy involved supplying something new and unique to these three stories, which had been published in Story magazine and the University of Kansas City Review in the early 1940s. The fact that they had never been registered by Salinger allowed a narrow window for republication. “We had the choice of adding annotations and educational materials to the book or a set of new illustrations,” says Darrin Devault, one of the co-founders of the Devault-Graves Agency.

Devault and his partner, Tom Graves, decided to hire a 23-year-old illustrator in Brooklyn named Anna Rose Yoken. Devault knew of her work because he teaches journalism with the artist’s mother at the University of Memphis. He sent Yoken the three stories — “The Young Folks,” “Go See Eddie” and “Once a Week Won’t Kill You” — and encouraged her to design images in harmony with their settings and personalities.

“I enjoyed that there were female characters in every story,” Yoken says, “and each of them had a defined attitude and personality. I was trying to portray a very stylish but timeless look in my illustrations, as I felt that best represented J.D. Salinger’s work.”

Like millions of others, Yoken connected with “Catcher in the Rye” when she first read it as a teenager. “I was a sad middle schooler and felt like I could understand Holden Caulfield very well at the time,” she says. “I re-read ‘Catcher in the Rye’ once I was in college and felt very different; I wished it was about a lady instead.”

Devault is particularly pleased with Yoken’s sensitivity to the period. “Perhaps the biggest compliment to Anna’s work is the reaction we’ve had from early readers of the book,” he says. “They often think they are viewing art from the 1940s, when the stories were originally published. Anna’s distinctive style allows for interpretation that doesn’t detract from the text or overly imprint itself on the reader’s imagination. Her illustrations, we felt, serve to enhance the text and give it the period feel that was so important.”

Once, of course, illustrations were a staple of fine books for adults. It’s unfortunate that such visual ornamentation has grown so rare, particularly at a time when bound books are struggling to complete with e-books. Although Yoken’s artwork is, admittedly, part of a strategy to legally publish these Salinger stories, Devault-Graves is genuinely interested in producing visually engaging books.

“Illustrations in adult books are a lost art,” Devault says, “something we would like to bring back for appropriate books. For instance, our crime fiction imprint, Chalk Line Books, features illustrations in every edition we publish. Our prices sometimes are slightly higher, but we feel these illustrations add a dimension to our works that will help distinguish us as an emerging indie publisher.”

The J.D. Salinger Literary Trust is expected to publish several new works by Salinger over the next six years. Those books are very unlikely to contain illustrations.