Donald Barthelme was born in Philadelphia, where his parents had been students at the University of Pennsylvania. His father was an architect; his mother had studied English. A few years later, the family moved to Houston, where his father became a professor of architecture at the University of Houston.
Texas may seem an unlikely place for one of the most-discussed writers of nonlinear, “experimental” fiction to have developed, but Barthelme credits his father’s interest in what, for the time, were advanced architectural styles with fostering his interest in the avant-garde. The house they lived in was designed by his father, and it was remarkable enough for Houston that, Barthelme has said, people used to stop their cars and stare at it. It was this interest of his father that Barthelme credited with being the most influential clement of his early years on his later development. In high school, Barthelme wrote for both the newspaper and the literary magazine. In 1949 he entered the University of Houston, majoring in journalism. During his sophomore year (1950-1951) he was the editor of the college newspaper, the Cougar. During this year he also worked as a reporter for the Houston Post.
In 1953, Barthelme was drafted into the U.S. Army, arriving in Korea the day the truce ending the Korean War was signed, at which point he became the editor of an Army newspaper. Upon his return to the United States, he once again became a reporter for the Houston Post and returned to the University of Houston, where he worked as a speechwriter for the university president and attended classes in philosophy. Although he attended classes as late as 1957, he ultimately left without taking a degree.
Barthelme has said that he read extensively during this period in a number of fields that he later integrated into his fiction: literature and philosophy as well as the social sciences. In 1956, he...
(The entire section is 796 words.)