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Donald Barthelme

Donald Barthelme

Overview
Donald Barthelme was an American author
American literature
American literature is the written or literary work produced in the area of the United States and its preceding colonies. For more specific discussions of poetry and theater, see Poetry of the United States and Theater in the United States. During its early history, America was a series of British...

 known for his playful, postmodernist
Postmodern literature
The term Postmodern literature is used to describe certain characteristics of post–World War II literature and a reaction against Enlightenment ideas implicit in Modernist literature.Postmodern literature, like postmodernism as a whole, is hard to define and there is little agreement on the exact...

 style of short fiction
Short story
A short story is a work of fiction that is usually written in prose, often in narrative format. This format tends to be more pointed than longer works of fiction, such as novellas and novels. Short story definitions based on length differ somewhat, even among professional writers, in part because...

. Barthelme also worked as a newspaper
Newspaper
A newspaper is a scheduled publication containing news of current events, informative articles, diverse features and advertising. It usually is printed on relatively inexpensive, low-grade paper such as newsprint. By 2007, there were 6580 daily newspapers in the world selling 395 million copies a...

 reporter for the Houston Post
Houston Post
The Houston Post was a newspaper that had its headquarters in Houston, Texas, United States. In 1995, the newspaper was absorbed into the Houston Chronicle.-History:The newspaper was established on February 19, 1880, by Gail Borden Johnson...

, managing editor of Location magazine
Magazine
Magazines, periodicals, glossies or serials are publications, generally published on a regular schedule, containing a variety of articles. They are generally financed by advertising, by a purchase price, by pre-paid magazine subscriptions, or all three...

, director of the Contemporary Arts Museum in Houston
Houston, Texas
Houston is the fourth-largest city in the United States, and the largest city in the state of Texas. According to the 2010 U.S. Census, the city had a population of 2.1 million people within an area of . Houston is the seat of Harris County and the economic center of , which is the ...

 (1961–1962), co-founder of Fiction
Fiction Magazine
Fiction is a literary magazine founded in 1972 by Mark Jay Mirsky, Donald Barthelme, and Max Frisch. It is published by the City College of New York....

 (with Mark Mirsky
Mark Jay Mirsky
Mark Jay Mirsky is an American writer and professor of English at City College of New York.His first three novels present a humorous and scathing portrait of the Jewish community of and around Blue Hill Avenue in Dorchester...

 and the assistance of Max
Max Frisch
Max Rudolf Frisch was a Swiss playwright and novelist, regarded as highly representative of German-language literature after World War II. In his creative works Frisch paid particular attention to issues relating to problems of human identity, individuality, responsibility, morality and political...

 and Marianne Frisch), and a professor at various universities. He also was one of the original founders of The University of Houston Creative Writing Program.

Donald Barthelme was born in Philadelphia
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Philadelphia is the largest city in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and the county seat of Philadelphia County, with which it is coterminous. The city is located in the Northeastern United States along the Delaware and Schuylkill rivers. It is the fifth-most-populous city in the United States,...

 in 1931.
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Encyclopedia
Donald Barthelme was an American author
American literature
American literature is the written or literary work produced in the area of the United States and its preceding colonies. For more specific discussions of poetry and theater, see Poetry of the United States and Theater in the United States. During its early history, America was a series of British...

 known for his playful, postmodernist
Postmodern literature
The term Postmodern literature is used to describe certain characteristics of post–World War II literature and a reaction against Enlightenment ideas implicit in Modernist literature.Postmodern literature, like postmodernism as a whole, is hard to define and there is little agreement on the exact...

 style of short fiction
Short story
A short story is a work of fiction that is usually written in prose, often in narrative format. This format tends to be more pointed than longer works of fiction, such as novellas and novels. Short story definitions based on length differ somewhat, even among professional writers, in part because...

. Barthelme also worked as a newspaper
Newspaper
A newspaper is a scheduled publication containing news of current events, informative articles, diverse features and advertising. It usually is printed on relatively inexpensive, low-grade paper such as newsprint. By 2007, there were 6580 daily newspapers in the world selling 395 million copies a...

 reporter for the Houston Post
Houston Post
The Houston Post was a newspaper that had its headquarters in Houston, Texas, United States. In 1995, the newspaper was absorbed into the Houston Chronicle.-History:The newspaper was established on February 19, 1880, by Gail Borden Johnson...

, managing editor of Location magazine
Magazine
Magazines, periodicals, glossies or serials are publications, generally published on a regular schedule, containing a variety of articles. They are generally financed by advertising, by a purchase price, by pre-paid magazine subscriptions, or all three...

, director of the Contemporary Arts Museum in Houston
Houston, Texas
Houston is the fourth-largest city in the United States, and the largest city in the state of Texas. According to the 2010 U.S. Census, the city had a population of 2.1 million people within an area of . Houston is the seat of Harris County and the economic center of , which is the ...

 (1961–1962), co-founder of Fiction
Fiction Magazine
Fiction is a literary magazine founded in 1972 by Mark Jay Mirsky, Donald Barthelme, and Max Frisch. It is published by the City College of New York....

 (with Mark Mirsky
Mark Jay Mirsky
Mark Jay Mirsky is an American writer and professor of English at City College of New York.His first three novels present a humorous and scathing portrait of the Jewish community of and around Blue Hill Avenue in Dorchester...

 and the assistance of Max
Max Frisch
Max Rudolf Frisch was a Swiss playwright and novelist, regarded as highly representative of German-language literature after World War II. In his creative works Frisch paid particular attention to issues relating to problems of human identity, individuality, responsibility, morality and political...

 and Marianne Frisch), and a professor at various universities. He also was one of the original founders of The University of Houston Creative Writing Program.

Life


Donald Barthelme was born in Philadelphia
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Philadelphia is the largest city in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and the county seat of Philadelphia County, with which it is coterminous. The city is located in the Northeastern United States along the Delaware and Schuylkill rivers. It is the fifth-most-populous city in the United States,...

 in 1931. His father and mother were fellow students at the University of Pennsylvania
University of Pennsylvania
The University of Pennsylvania is a private, Ivy League university located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States. Penn is the fourth-oldest institution of higher education in the United States,Penn is the fourth-oldest using the founding dates claimed by each institution...

. The family moved to Texas
Texas
Texas is the second largest U.S. state by both area and population, and the largest state by area in the contiguous United States.The name, based on the Caddo word "Tejas" meaning "friends" or "allies", was applied by the Spanish to the Caddo themselves and to the region of their settlement in...

 two years later, where Barthelme's father
Donald Barthelme (architect)
Donald Barthelme, Sr. was a prominent architect in Houston, Texas, a teacher of architecture as a professor at the University of Houston and Rice University, and the father of novelist Donald Barthelme, Jr.....

 became a professor
Professor
A professor is a scholarly teacher; the precise meaning of the term varies by country. Literally, professor derives from Latin as a "person who professes" being usually an expert in arts or sciences; a teacher of high rank...

 of architecture
Architecture
Architecture is both the process and product of planning, designing and construction. Architectural works, in the material form of buildings, are often perceived as cultural and political symbols and as works of art...

 at the University of Houston
University of Houston
The University of Houston is a state research university, and is the flagship institution of the University of Houston System. Founded in 1927, it is Texas's third-largest university with nearly 40,000 students. Its campus spans 667 acres in southeast Houston, and was known as University of...

, where Barthelme would later study journalism
Journalism
Journalism is the practice of investigation and reporting of events, issues and trends to a broad audience in a timely fashion. Though there are many variations of journalism, the ideal is to inform the intended audience. Along with covering organizations and institutions such as government and...

.

In 1951, as a student, he wrote his first articles for the Houston Post
Houston Post
The Houston Post was a newspaper that had its headquarters in Houston, Texas, United States. In 1995, the newspaper was absorbed into the Houston Chronicle.-History:The newspaper was established on February 19, 1880, by Gail Borden Johnson...

. Two years later, Barthelme was drafted into the U.S. Army, arriving in Korea
Korea
Korea ) is an East Asian geographic region that is currently divided into two separate sovereign states — North Korea and South Korea. Located on the Korean Peninsula, Korea is bordered by the People's Republic of China to the northwest, Russia to the northeast, and is separated from Japan to the...

 on July 27, 1953, the day of the signing of the Korean Armistice Agreement, which ended the Korean War
Korean War
The Korean War was a conventional war between South Korea, supported by the United Nations, and North Korea, supported by the People's Republic of China , with military material aid from the Soviet Union...

. He served briefly as the editor of an Army newspaper before returning to the U.S. and his job at the Houston Post. Once back, he continued his studies at the University of Houston, studying philosophy. Although he continued to take classes until 1957, he never received a degree. He spent much of his free time in Houston’s Black jazz clubs, listening to musical innovators such as Lionel Hampton
Lionel Hampton
Lionel Leo Hampton was an American jazz vibraphonist, pianist, percussionist, bandleader and actor. Like Red Norvo, he was one of the first jazz vibraphone players. Hampton ranks among the great names in jazz history, having worked with a who's who of jazz musicians, from Benny Goodman and Buddy...

 and Peck Kelly, an experience that influenced his later writing.

Barthelme's relationship with his father was a struggle between a rebellious son and a demanding father. In later years they would have tremendous arguments about the kinds of literature in which Barthelme was interested and which he wrote. While in many ways his father was avant-garde
Avant-garde
Avant-garde means "advance guard" or "vanguard". The adjective form is used in English to refer to people or works that are experimental or innovative, particularly with respect to art, culture, and politics....

 in art
Art
Art is the product or process of deliberately arranging items in a way that influences and affects one or more of the senses, emotions, and intellect....

 and aesthetics
Aesthetics
Aesthetics is a branch of philosophy dealing with the nature of beauty, art, and taste, and with the creation and appreciation of beauty. It is more scientifically defined as the study of sensory or sensori-emotional values, sometimes called judgments of sentiment and taste...

, he did not approve of the post-modern and deconstruction
Deconstruction
Deconstruction is a term introduced by French philosopher Jacques Derrida in his 1967 book Of Grammatology. Although he carefully avoided defining the term directly, he sought to apply Martin Heidegger's concept of Destruktion or Abbau, to textual reading...

 schools. Barthelme's attitude toward his father is delineated in the novels The Dead Father and The King as he is pictured in the characters King Arthur
King Arthur
King Arthur is a legendary British leader of the late 5th and early 6th centuries, who, according to Medieval histories and romances, led the defence of Britain against Saxon invaders in the early 6th century. The details of Arthur's story are mainly composed of folklore and literary invention, and...

 and Lancelot
Lancelot
Sir Lancelot du Lac is one of the Knights of the Round Table in the Arthurian legend. He is the most trusted of King Arthur's knights and plays a part in many of Arthur's victories...

. Barthelme's independence also shows in his moving away from the family's Roman Catholicism (his mother was especially devout), a separation that troubled Barthelme throughout his life as did the distance with his father. He seemed much closer to his mother and agreeable to her strictures.

Barthelme went on to teach for brief periods at Boston University
Boston University
Boston University is a private research university located in Boston, Massachusetts. With more than 4,000 faculty members and more than 31,000 students, Boston University is one of the largest private universities in the United States and one of Boston's largest employers...

, University at Buffalo
University at Buffalo, The State University of New York
University at Buffalo, The State University of New York, also commonly known as the University at Buffalo or UB, is a public research university and a "University Center" in the State University of New York system. The university was founded by Millard Fillmore in 1846. UB has multiple campuses...

, and the College of the City of New York
City College of New York
The City College of the City University of New York is a senior college of the City University of New York , in New York City. It is also the oldest of the City University's twenty-three institutions of higher learning...

, where he served as Distinguished Visiting Professor from 1974 to 1975.

His brothers Frederick
Frederick Barthelme
Fredrick Barthelme is an American novelist and short story author, well known as one of the seminal writers of minimalist fiction...

 (b. 1943) and Steven
Steven Barthelme
Steven Barthelme is the author of numerous short stories and essays. His published works include And He Tells the Little Horse the Whole Story, Double Down: Reflections on Gambling and Loss , and The Early Posthumous Work Steven Barthelme (born 1947) is the author of numerous short stories and...

 (b. 1947) are also respected fiction writers.

Personal life


He married four times. His second wife, Helen Barthelme, later wrote a biography entitled Donald Barthelme: The Genesis of a Cool Sound, published in 2001. With his third wife Birgit, a Dane, he had his first child, a daughter named Anne, and near the end of his life he married Marion, with whom he had his second daughter, Kate. Marion and Donald remained married until his 1989 death from throat cancer
Head and neck cancer
Head and neck cancer refers to a group of biologically similar cancers that start in the upper aerodigestive tract, including the lip, oral cavity , nasal cavity , paranasal sinuses, pharynx, and larynx. 90% of head and neck cancers are squamous cell carcinomas , originating from the mucosal lining...

 .

Controversy


The December 2001 issue of Harper's Magazine
Harper's Magazine
Harper's Magazine is a monthly magazine of literature, politics, culture, finance, and the arts, with a generally left-wing perspective. It is the second-oldest continuously published monthly magazine in the U.S. . The current editor is Ellen Rosenbush, who replaced Roger Hodge in January 2010...

, included a speculative piece by writer Paul Limbert Allman in which he imagined Prof. Donald Barthelme to have orchestrated the 1986 attack on Dan Rather, citing unusual passages in Barthelme's writing, including the phrase "What is the frequency?", a recurring character named Kenneth, and a short story about a pompous editor named Lather. Obviously, Allman's article was not a serious accusation of Barthelme; it proceeds from this idea of an imaginary conspiracy, with Barthelme as the emblem of hidden, anarchistic social tendencies and Rather as the embodiment of middle-class American values.

Career


In 1961, Barthelme became director of the Contemporary Arts Museum in Houston; he published his first short story the same year. His New Yorker
The New Yorker
The New Yorker is an American magazine of reportage, commentary, criticism, essays, fiction, satire, cartoons and poetry published by Condé Nast...

publication, "L'Lapse," a parody of Michelangelo Antonioni's film L'Eclisse [The Eclipse], followed in 1963. The magazine would go on to publish much of Barthelme's early output, including such now famous stories as "Me and Miss Mandible," the tale of a 35-year old sent to elementary school by either a clerical error or failing at his job as an insurance adjuster and failing in his marriage, and "A Shower of Gold," in which a sculptor agrees to appear on the existentialist game show Who Am I?. Barthelme collected his early stories the following year in Come Back, Dr. Caligari, for which he received considerable critical acclaim as an innovator of the short story
Short story
A short story is a work of fiction that is usually written in prose, often in narrative format. This format tends to be more pointed than longer works of fiction, such as novellas and novels. Short story definitions based on length differ somewhat, even among professional writers, in part because...

 form. His style (fictional and popular figures in absurd situations, e.g., the Batman
Batman
Batman is a fictional character created by the artist Bob Kane and writer Bill Finger. A comic book superhero, Batman first appeared in Detective Comics #27 , and since then has appeared primarily in publications by DC Comics...

-inspired "The Joker's Greatest Triumph"), spawned a number of imitators and would help to define the next several decades of short fiction.

Barthelme continued his success in the short story form with Unspeakable Practices, Unnatural Acts (1968). One widely anthologized story from this collection, "The Balloon," appears to reflect on Barthelme's own intentions as an artist. The narrator of the tale inflates a giant, irregular balloon over most of Manhattan
Manhattan
Manhattan is the oldest and the most densely populated of the five boroughs of New York City. Located primarily on the island of Manhattan at the mouth of the Hudson River, the boundaries of the borough are identical to those of New York County, an original county of the state of New York...

, causing widely divergent reactions in the populace. Children play across its top, enjoying it quite literally on a surface level; adults attempt to read meaning into it, but are baffled by its ever-changing shape; the authorities attempt to destroy it, but fail. Only in the final paragraph does the reader learn that the narrator has inflated the balloon for purely personal reasons, and sees no intrinsic meaning in the balloon itself, a metaphor for the amorphous, uncertain nature of Barthelme's fiction. Other notable stories from this collection include "The Indian Uprising," a mad collage
Collage
A collage is a work of formal art, primarily in the visual arts, made from an assemblage of different forms, thus creating a new whole....

 of a Comanche
Comanche
The Comanche are a Native American ethnic group whose historic range consisted of present-day eastern New Mexico, southern Colorado, northeastern Arizona, southern Kansas, all of Oklahoma, and most of northwest Texas. Historically, the Comanches were hunter-gatherers, with a typical Plains Indian...

 attack on a modern city, and "Robert Kennedy Saved From Drowning," a series of vignettes showing the difficulties of truly knowing a public figure; the latter story appeared in print only two months before the real Kennedy's
Robert F. Kennedy
Robert Francis "Bobby" Kennedy , also referred to by his initials RFK, was an American politician, a Democratic senator from New York, and a noted civil rights activist. An icon of modern American liberalism and member of the Kennedy family, he was a younger brother of President John F...

 1968 assassination
Robert F. Kennedy assassination
The assassination of Robert F. Kennedy, a United States Senator and brother of assassinated President John F. Kennedy, took place shortly after midnight on June 5, 1968, in Los Angeles, California...

.

Barthelme would go on to write over a hundred more short stories, first collected in City Life (1970), Sadness (1972), Amateurs (1976), Great Days (1979), and Overnight to Many Distant Cities (1983). Many of these stories were later reprinted and slightly revised for the collections Sixty Stories (1981), Forty Stories (1987) and, posthumously, Flying to America (2007). Though primarily known for these stories, Barthelme also produced four novels characterized by the same fragmentary style: Snow White (1967), The Dead Father (1975), Paradise (1986), and The King (1990, posthumous).

Barthelme also wrote the non-fictional Guilty Pleasures (1974). His other writings have been posthumously gathered into two collections, The Teachings of Don B.: Satires, Parodies, Fables, Illustrated Stories, and Plays of Donald Barthelme (1992), and Not-Knowing: The Essays and Interviews (1997). With his daughter, he wrote the children's book The Slightly Irregular Fire Engine, which received the National Book Award
National Book Award
The National Book Awards are a set of American literary awards. Started in 1950, the Awards are presented annually to American authors for literature published in the current year. In 1989 the National Book Foundation, a nonprofit organization which now oversees and manages the National Book...

 for Children's Literature in 1972. He was also a director of PEN
International PEN
PEN International , the worldwide association of writers, was founded in London in 1921 to promote friendship and intellectual co-operation among writers everywhere....

 and the Author's Guild, and a member of the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters.

Style and legacy


Barthelme's short stories are often exceptionally compact (a form sometimes called "short-short story," "flash fiction
Flash fiction
Flash fiction is a style of fictional literature or fiction of extreme brevity. There is no widely accepted definition of the length of the category...

," or "sudden fiction"), often focusing only on incident rather than complete narratives. (He did, however, write some longer stories with more traditional narrative arcs.) At first, these stories contained short epiphanic
Epiphany (feeling)
An epiphany is the sudden realization or comprehension of the essence or meaning of something...

 moments. Later in his career, the stories were not consciously philosophical or symbol
Symbol
A symbol is something which represents an idea, a physical entity or a process but is distinct from it. The purpose of a symbol is to communicate meaning. For example, a red octagon may be a symbol for "STOP". On a map, a picture of a tent might represent a campsite. Numerals are symbols for...

ic. His fiction had its admirers and detractors, being hailed as profoundly disciplined or derided as meaningless and academic postmodernism. Barthelme's thoughts and work were largely the result of twentieth-century angst as he read extensively, for example in Pascal, Husserl, Heidegger, Kierkegaard, Ionesco, Beckett, Sartre, and Camus.

Barthelme's stories typically avoid traditional plot structures, relying instead on a steady accumulation of seemingly-unrelated detail. By subverting the reader's expectations through constant non sequitur
Non sequitur (absurdism)
A non sequitur is a conversational and literary device, often used for comedic purposes. It is a comment that, because of its apparent lack of meaning relative to what it follows, seems absurd to the point of being humorous or confusing....

s, Barthelme creates a hopelessly fragmented verbal collage reminiscent of such modernist
Modernism
Modernism, in its broadest definition, is modern thought, character, or practice. More specifically, the term describes the modernist movement, its set of cultural tendencies and array of associated cultural movements, originally arising from wide-scale and far-reaching changes to Western society...

 works as T. S. Eliot
T. S. Eliot
Thomas Stearns "T. S." Eliot OM was a playwright, literary critic, and arguably the most important English-language poet of the 20th century. Although he was born an American he moved to the United Kingdom in 1914 and was naturalised as a British subject in 1927 at age 39.The poem that made his...

's The Waste Land
The Waste Land
The Waste Land[A] is a 434-line[B] modernist poem by T. S. Eliot published in 1922. It has been called "one of the most important poems of the 20th century." Despite the poem's obscurity—its shifts between satire and prophecy, its abrupt and unannounced changes of speaker, location and time, its...

and James Joyce
James Joyce
James Augustine Aloysius Joyce was an Irish novelist and poet, considered to be one of the most influential writers in the modernist avant-garde of the early 20th century...

's Ulysses
Ulysses (novel)
Ulysses is a novel by the Irish author James Joyce. It was first serialised in parts in the American journal The Little Review from March 1918 to December 1920, and then published in its entirety by Sylvia Beach on 2 February 1922, in Paris. One of the most important works of Modernist literature,...

, whose linguistic experiments he often challenged. However, Barthelme's fundamental skepticism and irony
Irony
Irony is a rhetorical device, literary technique, or situation in which there is a sharp incongruity or discordance that goes beyond the simple and evident intention of words or actions...

 distanced him from the modernists' belief in the power of art to reconstruct society, leading most critics to class him as a postmodernist
Postmodernism
Postmodernism is a philosophical movement evolved in reaction to modernism, the tendency in contemporary culture to accept only objective truth and to be inherently suspicious towards a global cultural narrative or meta-narrative. Postmodernist thought is an intentional departure from the...

 writer. Literary critics have noted that Barthelme, like the French poet Stéphane Mallarmé
Stéphane Mallarmé
Stéphane Mallarmé , whose real name was Étienne Mallarmé, was a French poet and critic. He was a major French symbolist poet, and his work anticipated and inspired several revolutionary artistic schools of the early 20th century, such as Dadaism, Surrealism, and Futurism.-Biography:Stéphane...

, whom he admired, plays with the meanings of words, relying on poetic intuition to spark new connections of ideas buried in the expressions and conventional responses. The critic George Wicks called Barthelme "the leading American practitioner of surrealism today . . . whose fiction continues the investigations of consciousness and experiments in expression that began with Dada and surrealism a half century ago." Another critic, Jacob Appel
Jacob M. Appel
Jacob M. Appel is an American author, bioethicist and social critic. He is best known for his short stories, his work as a playwright, and his writing in the fields of reproductive ethics, organ donation, neuroethics and euthanasia....

, described him as "the most influential unread author in United States history." Barthelme has been described in many other ways, such as in an article in Harper's where Josephine Henden classified him as an angry sado-masochist.

The great bulk of his work was published in The New Yorker, and he began to publish his stories in collections beginning with Come Back, Dr. Caligari in 1964, Unspeakable Practices, Unnatural Acts in 1968, and City Life in 1970. Time magazine named City Life one of the best books of the year and described the collection as written with "Kafka's purity of language and some of Beckett's grim humor." At times it seems that every story Barthelme published was unique, such is his formal originality: for example, a fresh handling of the parodic dramatic monologue in "The School" or a list of 100 numbered sentences and fragments in "The Glass Mountain." The narrator of one story states, "Fragments are the only forms I trust" ("See the Moon?" from Unspeakable Practices; in fact, the statement appears several times in that story), an aspect of his writing which Joyce Carol Oates
Joyce Carol Oates
Joyce Carol Oates is an American author. Oates published her first book in 1963 and has since published over fifty novels, as well as many volumes of short stories, poetry, and nonfiction...

 commented on in the New York Times Book Review essay of 1972 entitled "Whose Side Are You On?": "This from a writer of arguable genius whose works reflect what he himself must feel, in book after book, that his brain is all fragments . . . just like everything else." Barthelme expressed great irritation over the "fragments" quote being attributed so frequently to himself, rather than being understood as merely one statement by one narrator in one story.

Another Barthelme device was breaking up a tale with illustrations culled from mostly 19th Century popular publications, collaged, and appended with ironic captions; Barthelme called his cutting up and pasting together pictures "a secret vice gone public." One of the pieces in the collection Guilty Pleasures, called "The Expedition," featured a full-page illustration of a collision between ships, with the caption "Not our fault!"

Barthelme's legacy as an educator lives on at the University of Houston
University of Houston
The University of Houston is a state research university, and is the flagship institution of the University of Houston System. Founded in 1927, it is Texas's third-largest university with nearly 40,000 students. Its campus spans 667 acres in southeast Houston, and was known as University of...

, where he was one of the founders of the prestigious Creative Writing Program. At the University of Houston, Barthelme became known as a sensitive, creative, and encouraging mentor to young creative writing students while he continued his own writings. One of his students and doctoral candidate in creative writing was Thomas Cobb, whose doctoral dissertation Crazy Heart became the novel of the same name, the main character partly based on Barthelme.

Influences


In a 1971-72 Interview with Jerome Klinkowitz (now collected in Not-Knowing), Barthelme provides a list of favorite writers, both influential figures from the past and contemporary writers he admired. Throughout other interviews in the same collection, Barthelme reiterates a number of the same names and also mentions several others, occasionally expanding on why these writers were important for him. In a 1975 Interview for Pacifica Radio, Barthelme stresses that, for him, Beckett is foremost among his literary predecessors: "...I'm enormously impressed by Beckett. I'm just overwhelmed by Beckett, as Beckett was, I speculate, by Joyce." What follows is a partial list gleaned from the interviews.
  • François Rabelais
    François Rabelais
    François Rabelais was a major French Renaissance writer, doctor, Renaissance humanist, monk and Greek scholar. He has historically been regarded as a writer of fantasy, satire, the grotesque, bawdy jokes and songs...

  • Arthur Rimbaud
    Arthur Rimbaud
    Jean Nicolas Arthur Rimbaud was a French poet. Born in Charleville, Ardennes, he produced his best known works while still in his late teens—Victor Hugo described him at the time as "an infant Shakespeare"—and he gave up creative writing altogether before the age of 21. As part of the decadent...

  • Heinrich von Kleist
    Heinrich von Kleist
    Bernd Heinrich Wilhelm von Kleist was a poet, dramatist, novelist and short story writer. The Kleist Prize, a prestigious prize for German literature, is named after him.- Life :...

  • Franz Kafka
    Franz Kafka
    Franz Kafka was a culturally influential German-language author of short stories and novels. Contemporary critics and academics, including Vladimir Nabokov, regard Kafka as one of the best writers of the 20th century...

  • Gertrude Stein
    Gertrude Stein
    Gertrude Stein was an American writer, poet and art collector who spent most of her life in France.-Early life:...

  • Flann O'Brien
    Flann O'Brien
    Brian O'Nolan was an Irish novelist, playwright and satirist regarded as a key figure in postmodern literature. Best known for novels such as At Swim-Two-Birds, The Third Policeman and An Béal Bocht and many satirical columns in The Irish Times Brian O'Nolan (5 October 1911 – 1 April 1966) was...


  • Samuel Beckett
    Samuel Beckett
    Samuel Barclay Beckett was an Irish avant-garde novelist, playwright, theatre director, and poet. He wrote both in English and French. His work offers a bleak, tragicomic outlook on human nature, often coupled with black comedy and gallows humour.Beckett is widely regarded as among the most...

  • William H. Gass
    William H. Gass
    William Howard Gass is an American novelist, short story writer, essayist, critic, and former philosophy professor. He has written two novels, three collections of short stories, a collection of novellas, and seven volumes of essays, three of which have won National Book Critics Circle Award...

  • Rafael Sabatini
    Rafael Sabatini
    Rafael Sabatini was an Italian/British writer of novels of romance and adventure.-Life:Rafael Sabatini was born in Iesi, Italy, to an English mother and Italian father...

  • S. J. Perelman
    S. J. Perelman
    Sidney Joseph Perelman, almost always known as S. J. Perelman , was an American humorist, author, and screenwriter. He is best known for his humorous short pieces written over many years for The New Yorker...

  • Ann Beattie
    Ann Beattie
    Ann Beattie is an American short story writer and novelist. She has received an award for excellence from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters and a PEN/Bernard Malamud Award for excellence in the short story form. Her work has been compared to that of Alice Adams, J.D. Salinger,...

  • Walker Percy
    Walker Percy
    Walker Percy was an American Southern author whose interests included philosophy and semiotics. Percy is best known for his philosophical novels set in and around New Orleans, Louisiana, the first of which, The Moviegoer, won the National Book Award for Fiction in 1962...


  • Gabriel García Márquez
    Gabriel García Márquez
    Gabriel José de la Concordia García Márquez is a Colombian novelist, short-story writer, screenwriter and journalist, known affectionately as Gabo throughout Latin America. He is considered one of the most significant authors of the 20th century. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in...

  • John Barth
    John Barth
    John Simmons Barth is an American novelist and short-story writer, known for the postmodernist and metafictive quality of his work.-Life:...

  • Thomas Pynchon
    Thomas Pynchon
    Thomas Ruggles Pynchon, Jr. is an American novelist. For his most praised novel, Gravity's Rainbow, Pynchon received the National Book Award, and is regularly cited as a contender for the Nobel Prize in Literature...

  • Kenneth Koch
    Kenneth Koch
    Kenneth Koch was an American poet, playwright, and professor, active from the 1950s until his death at age 77...

  • John Ashbery
    John Ashbery
    John Lawrence Ashbery is an American poet. He has published more than twenty volumes of poetry and won nearly every major American award for poetry, including a Pulitzer Prize in 1976 for his collection Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror. But Ashbery's work still proves controversial...

  • Grace Paley
    Grace Paley
    Grace Paley was an American-Jewish short story writer, poet, and political activist.-Biography:Grace Paley was born in the Bronx to Isaac and Manya Ridnyik Goodside, who anglicized the family name from Gutseit on immigrating from Ukraine. Her father was a doctor. The family spoke Russian and...

  • Machado de Assis

Barthelme was also quite interested in and influenced by a number of contemporary artists.

Story collections

  • Come Back, Dr. Caligari - Little, Brown, 1964
  • Unspeakable Practices, Unnatural Acts - Farrar, Straus, 1968
  • City Life - Farrar, Straus, 1970
  • Sadness - Farrar, Straus, 1972
  • Amateurs - Farrar, Straus, 1976
  • Great Days - Farrar, Straus, 1979
  • Overnight to Many Distant Cities - Putnam, 1983
  • Sam's Bar (with illustrations by Seymour Chwast) - Doubleday, 1987
  • Sixty Stories
    Sixty Stories (book)
    Sixty Stories collects sixty of Donald Barthelme's short stories, several of which originally appeared in The New Yorker. The book was first published by G. P. Putnam's Sons in 1981.-Stories:...

    - Putnam, 1981
  • Forty Stories
    Forty Stories
    Forty Stories collects forty of Donald Barthelme's short stories, several of which originally appeared in The New Yorker. The book was frst published by G. P. Putnam's Sons in 1987....

    - Putnam, 1987
  • Flying to America: 45 More Stories - Shoemaker & Hoard, 2007

Novels

  • Snow White - Atheneum, 1967
  • The Dead Father
    The Dead Father
    The Dead Father is a post-modernist novel by author Donald Barthelme published in 1975 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux. The book relates the journey of a vaguely defined entity that symbolizes fatherhood, hauled by a small group of people as the plot unravels through narratives, anecdotes, dialogues,...

    - Farrar, Straus, 1975
  • Paradise - Putnam, 1986
  • The King - Harper, 1990

Other works

  • A Manual for Sons (excerpted from The Dead Father
    The Dead Father
    The Dead Father is a post-modernist novel by author Donald Barthelme published in 1975 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux. The book relates the journey of a vaguely defined entity that symbolizes fatherhood, hauled by a small group of people as the plot unravels through narratives, anecdotes, dialogues,...

    , with an afterword by Rick Moody
    Rick Moody
    Rick Moody is an American novelist and short story writer best known for the 1994 novel The Ice Storm, a chronicle of the dissolution of two suburban Connecticut families over Thanksgiving weekend in 1973, which brought widespread acclaim, became a bestseller, and was made into a feature film of...

  • The Teachings of Don B.: Satires, Parodies, Fables, Illustrated Stories, and Plays of Donald Barthelme, edited by Kim Herzinger
    Kim Herzinger
    Kim Herzinger is a critic, a Pushcart Prize-winning writer of fiction, and the editor of three Donald Barthelme collections. He taught at the University of Southern Mississippi and now owns and operates Left Bank Books in New York City....

     - Turtle Bay Books, 1992
  • Not-Knowing: The Essays and Interviews of Donald Barthelme, edited by Kim Herzinger - Random House, 1997
  • The Slightly Irregular Fire Engine, or the Hithering Thithering Djinn (children's book), Farrar, Straus, 1971

Awards

  • Guggenheim Fellowship
    Guggenheim Fellowship
    Guggenheim Fellowships are American grants that have been awarded annually since 1925 by the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation to those "who have demonstrated exceptional capacity for productive scholarship or exceptional creative ability in the arts." Each year, the foundation makes...

    , 1966
  • Time Magazine Best Books of the Year list, 1971, for City Life
  • National Book Award for children's literature, 1972, for The Slightly Irregular Fire Engine or the Hithering Thithering Djinn
  • Morton Dauwen Zabel Award from the National Institute of Arts and Letters, 1972
  • Jesse H Jones Award from Texas Institute of Letters, 1976, for The Dead Father
  • Nominated for National Book Critics Circle Award, PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction, Los Angeles Times Book Prize, all for Sixty Stories, all in 1982
  • Rea Award for the Short Story
    Rea Award for the Short Story
    The Rea Award for the Short Story is an annual award given to a living American or Canadian author chosen for unusually significant contributions to short story fiction.-The Award:...

    , 1988

Further reading

  • Daugherty, Tracy
    Tracy Daugherty
    Tracy Daugherty is an American author. His is currently Distinguished Professor of English and Creative Writing at Oregon State University. He has previously held fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts....

    , Hiding Man: A Biography of Donald Barthelme, New York : St. Martin's Press, February 2009. ISBN 9780312378684

External links