J.R. Salamanca was born on December 20th, 1922 in St. Petersburg, Florida. Son of Raul, a Colombian engineer, and Lucy (maiden name Nuttall), a writer, lived briefly in Colombia in his paternal family estate near the town of Duitama, Boyacá in the mid 1920s. He later moved back to the United States to live in central Florida, where he lived during most of his childhood and early teenage years. Throughout Salamanca’s adolescence, he bounced from New York City to Virginia to Washington DC, where he ultimately finished high school. From 1939 to 1941 he attended George Washington University and started pursuing a career in theatre.
In 1942, after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Salamanca joined the U.S. Army and was assigned the duty of radio operator in Noumea, New Caledonia (South Pacific), where he served from 1942 to 1945. After the war, Salamanca worked briefly in the Library of Congress and later worked for a theater company in Maryland where he met the actress Mimi Norton, who would later become his wife.
In the late 1940s, Salamanca was employed at Chestnut Lodge, a private mental hospital located in Rockville, Maryland. Working there turned out to be one of the most interesting and productive experiences in Salamanca’s life. While working as an aide in the occupational therapy department, Salamanca became acquainted with a girl named Joanne Goldenburg; his friendship with her, and his awe of her intellect and creativity, would later inspire Salamanca’s bestseller novel, Lilith.
In 1950, Salamanca and his wife relocated to Europe. After living in Paris for a while, they moved to London, where Salamanca was accepted at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. In 1953, Salamanca graduated from R.A.D.A., and a year later he earned a Diploma in Drama from the University of London. Although Salamanca was in the midst of theatrical furor, academic study, and travelling, he still managed to find time to begin writing his first novel, titled The Lost Country.
One of the most euphoric turning points of Salamanca’s life was the birth of his son, Richard, in London in 1954. A few months later, Salamanca and his family reestablished in the state of Florida, U.S., where he completed his first novel while teaching at Lindsey-Hopkins School. To Salamanca’s astonishment and delight, Simon & Schuster bought his novel and published it in 1958. The Lost Country novel eventually mused for a movie titled Wild in the Country, starring Elvis Presley and Hope Lange.
The success of Salamanca’s first novel founded his financial independence; as a result, he decided to continue with his writing and abandon his ambitions for the stage. Salamanca then sculpted his bestseller novel, Lilith, which was published by Simon & Schuster in 1961. Lilith was later sold to the famous director, Robert Rossen, who produced and directed the film in 1964. After teaching at Wayne State University in Detroit and the University of Connecticut, Salamanca settled in Maryland and joined the University of Maryland, where he worked in the English department for more than 30 years. After writing the novels A Sea Change (1968) and Embarkation (1973), 13 years passed before Salamanca wrote again.
In 1980 Salamanca started intensive research for his subsequent novel, Southern Light (published in 1986) which dealt with the infamous Tuskegee Study. Under the direction of the United States Health Service, the study consisted of mistreating illiterate and diseased black people solely for research purposes. The novel required 6 years of tedious medical and historical research of case related documents; although it was exhausting and dispiriting to write, Salamanca felt a moral imperative to follow through with it. Many of his critics consider Southern Light his finest work.
Salamanca’s last novel, That Summer’s Trance was published in 2000 by Knopf.
J.R. Salamanca died on October 30, 2013 in his home in Potomac, Maryland.