Barthelme, Donald

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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 Cougar newspaper. 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.

From the guide to the Donald Barthelme collection, 1963–1991, (University of Delaware Library - Special Collections)

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
referencedIn New Yorker records, ca.1924-1984 New York Public Library. Manuscripts and Archives Division
referencedIn New Directions Publishing Corp. records, 1932-2005 Houghton Library
referencedIn Joyce Carol Oates Papers, 1956-2006 Syracuse University. Library. Special Collections Research Center
creatorOf Donald Barthelme collection, 1963–1991 University of Delaware Library - Special Collections
referencedIn Farrar, Straus & Giroux, Inc. records, 1899-2003, 1945-1989 New York Public Library. Manuscripts and Archives Division
referencedIn American Review records, 1967-1977 Bentley Historica Library University of Michigan
referencedIn Gropius, Walter, 1883-1969. Papers, 1925-1969 (bulk: 1937-1969) Houghton Library
referencedIn Harold Rosenberg papers, 1923-1984 Getty Research Institute
Role Title Holding Repository
Relation Name
associatedWith American Review corporateBody
associatedWith Farrar, Straus, and Giroux corporateBody
correspondedWith Gropius, Walter, 1883-1969 person
associatedWith New Directions Publishing Corp. corporateBody
correspondedWith New Yorker Magazine, Inc corporateBody
associatedWith Oates, Joyce Carol, 1938- person
associatedWith Rosenberg, Harold, 1906-1978 person
Place Name Admin Code Country




Ark ID: w6m16c3x

SNAC ID: 53297986