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...
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Barthelme was one of the most innovative and original writers of the second half of the twentieth century, drawing on and developing the themes and techniques of the modernists who preceded him. Avoiding plot and developed characters, his works are collages of the high and low, the sublime and ridiculous, of which modern society is constituted. In his short stories and novels, the fragmentary nature of modern society is both exemplified and exploited for comic effect, becoming both subject matter and technique of his writing.
Often praised and sometimes disparaged as one of The New Yorker writers, a narrative innovator, and a moral relativist whose only advice (John Gardner claimed) is that it is better to be disillusioned than deluded, Donald Barthelme was born in Philadelphia on April 7, 1931, and moved to Houston two years later. He grew up in Texas, attended Catholic diocesan schools, and began his writing career as a journalist in Ernest Hemingway’s footsteps. His father, an architect who favored the modernist style of Ludwig Mies Van Der Rohe and Le Corbusier, taught at the University of Houston and designed the family’s house, which became as much an object of surprise and wonder on the flat Texas landscape as his son’s oddly shaped fictions were to become on the equally flat narrative landscape of postwar American fiction. While majoring in journalism, Barthelme wrote for the university newspaper as well as the Houston Post. He was drafted in 1953 and arrived in Korea on the day the truce was signed—the kind of coincidence one comes to expect in Barthelme’s stories of strange juxtapositions and incongruous couplings. After his military service, during which he also edited an Army newspaper, he returned to Houston, where he worked in the university’s public relations department (“writing poppycock for the President,” as he put it in one story), and where he founded Forum, a literary and intellectual quarterly that published early works by...
(The entire section is 421 words.)
Donald Barthelme was born in Philadelphia, where his parents were students at the University of Pennsylvania. A few years later, the family moved to Houston, where his father became a professor of architecture at the University of Houston. In high school, Barthelme wrote for both the school newspaper and the school 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 was signed, at which point he became the editor of an...
(The entire section is 341 words.)