The American novelist and short story writer Donald Barthelme was born April 7, 1931 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; he died of cancer on July 23, 1989 in Houston, Texas. Barthelme became interested in writing as a Houston high school student and in his sophomore year of college he edited the University of Houston's Cougarnewspaper. In the early 1950s Barthelme worked as a reporter for the Houston Post. After his military service in Korea and Japan he returned to Houston where he held a variety of positions, including founder and editor of the literary magazine Forum (1956 – 1960) and director of the Contemporary Arts Museum (1961-1962).
The stories that would make up his first book began appearing in literary journals and magazines in 1961 and by 1963 he had settled in New York City, publishing Come Back, Dr. Calgari (1964) and his first novel, Snow White (1967), to critical praise. In 1963 he also published his first story in The New Yorker, to which he became a long time contributor. A children's book, The Slightly Irregular Fire Engine or the Hithering Thithering Djinn (1971), won a National Book Award. From the 1960s through the early 1980s Barthelme published a steady flow of work and was considered among the most original and significant writers of his generation.
Best known for his short fiction, Barthelme frequently combined unconventional treatment of traditional storytelling elements, such as plot, character development, and chronology, with a humorous use of parody and satire. Barthelme's writing has frequently been called experimental, minimalist, metafictional, postmodern, and surrealist, but none of these terms fully account for his unique style. During his career he published ten collections of short fiction, four novels, and a variety of essays, articles, and other short works. His best-known novel is The Dead Father (1978), and the anthologies Sixty Stories (1981) and Forty Stories (1987) collect his best short fiction.
In addition to his career as a novelist and short story writer Barthelme held teaching positions in the 1970s and 1980s at SUNY Buffalo, Boston University, the City College of New York, and the University of Houston.
Among the awards Barthelme received are: O'Henry Award, 1964 and 1966; Guggenheim fellowship, 1966; National Book Award for children's literature (1972), and nominations for National Book Critics Circle Award, PEN/Faulkner Award, and Los Angeles Times Book Prize for the anthology Sixty Stories (1982).
Barth, John. "Thinking Man's Minimalist: Honoring Barthelme." New York Times, New York, N.Y.; Sep 3, 1989; pg. Book Review 9.
Gordon, Lois. Donald Barthelme. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1981.
LeClair, Tom. "An Interview with Donald Barthelme." Anything Can Happen. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1983. 32-44.
O'Hara, J.D. Paris Review Interview. Summer 1981. 180-210.
The Donald Barthelme Collection spans the dates 1963-1991. The collection contains galleys, proofs, manuscripts, published periodicals, and correspondence by the American writer Donald Barthelme. Many of the galleys and proofs have been extensively corrected by Barthelme and several of the manuscripts are unpublished. The primary collection of Barthelme's papers is housed at the University of Houston. The University of Delaware's Donald Barthelme Collection is complemented by extensive holdings of the author's published works, including galleys, proofs, advanced reader's editions, signed limited editions, fine press books, art work, and many foreign editions in French, German, Italian, Spanish and other languages.
The collection is organized in three series. Series I. Primary Publications contains materials from published and unpublished works by Barthelme and is organized in chronological order. Items of particular interest in this series include several early typescripts from Come Back, Dr. Caligari (1963) and corrected and revised galleys from Unspeakable Practices, Unnatural Acts (1968), City Life (1970), Guilty Pleasures, (1974), The Dead Father (1975), Amateurs (1976), and Great Days (1978). In most cases there are multiple copies of the galleys, revealing important compositional and editorial decisions made by the author prior to publication. The unpublished materials include an early children's story, "Benjamin Ziff" (n.d.), Snow White, A Play (1974), and a radio play, The Leap (1979). Additionally, there are several original artworks by Barthelme. Also included is the typescript for the radioplay, The Conservatory, written in the late 1970s, and a copy of Barthelme's 1980 Paris Review interview before he extensively re-wrote his replies.
Series II. Correspondence contains letters both to and from Barthelme, as well as a few items related to the bibliographic scholar Jerome Klinkowitz. Additionally, the correspondence between Lee Campbell, a book dealer, and Kim Herzinger, editor of The Teachings of Don B. (1992), reveals useful information concerning the unpublished Snow White: A Play with Music; two typescript versions of this piece are included in the collection (F16). Some ephemera is also included.
Series III. contains published periodicals ranging from the earliest appearance of Barthelme's work in literary journals such as Shenandoah and Fiction to his later work in The New Yorker and Esquire. The series represents the variety of publications where Barthelme published from the beginning of his career until the end of his life.