John Barth was born in Cambridge, Maryland, in the second year of the Great Depression. After graduating from local public schools, Barth spent the summer of 1947 studying theory and orchestration at New York’s Juilliard School of Music. At the time, Barth’s aspiration was to become a big-band jazz arranger in the tradition of Billy Strayhorn, but he soon felt that in comparison with the sophistication of his influences his own talents were limited, so he abandoned music as a career.
Returning to Maryland’s Eastern Shore at the end of the summer of 1947, Barth found that he had been awarded a scholarship to The Johns Hopkins University, and he elected to attend Johns Hopkins in the fall of that year to pursue a major in journalism. Although Barth has suggested that his interest in working with past literature, particularly myth and historical narrative, is a by-product of his interest in musical arrangement, he first became seriously interested in writing fiction in the creative writing classes he took at Johns Hopkins. There he was also introduced to the world of literature and criticism, and by the time he had completed his A.B. degree, which was awarded to Barth in 1951, he had effectively decided to devote himself to writing fiction.
His first extended work of fiction, a novel titled “The Shirt of Nessus” (unpublished), was Barth’s master’s project, for which he received an M.A. from Johns Hopkins in 1952. He then enrolled in the Ph.D. program in literary aesthetics at Johns Hopkins, but financial constraints forced him to abandon his studies and seek steady employment. In 1950, Barth had married Harriet Ann Strickland, and by 1953 they had two children, a daughter, Christine, born in 1951, and a son, John, born in 1952. A third child, David, was born in 1954. Barth joined the English faculty at Pennsylvania State University as an instructor in the fall of 1953, and he remained...
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As perhaps the most sophisticated practitioner of postmodern fiction in the United States, Barth is a central figure in the literary history of the contemporary period. Each of Barth’s books is consistent with the others in its pursuit of ideas and problems that Barth first considered, in their nascent form, very early in his career. Each Barth novel or short story is also distinctive in demonstrating a distinctive aspect of his technical prowess as a writer. While experimentation in and for itself has never been Barth’s aim, his success as a novelist, in large part, has depended upon his willingness to take risks and to experiment—and to do so with a keen sense of the literary tradition in which he writes.
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John Simmons Barth’s first artistic interest was in music, and he studied briefly at the Juilliard School of Music before entering The Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, in the fall of 1947. He married Harriette Anne Strickland in January, 1950. In 1951, he received his B.A. in creative writing, and his first child, Christine, was born. Barth completed his M.A. in 1952 and began work on his Ph.D. in the aesthetics of literature. His second child, John, was born in 1952, and with his wife expecting a third child (Daniel, born in 1954), Barth abandoned work on his Ph.D. and took a teaching job at Pennsylvania State University in 1953. In 1965, he left Pennsylvania State to teach at the State University of New York at...
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