Geographic Connection to Pennsylvania: Philadelphia, Philadelphia County
A post-modern novelist and short-story writer, Donald Barthelme was born in Philadelphia.
Awards: PEN/Faulkner Award, Guggenheim Fellowship, National Book Award
Donald Barthelme, one of the masters of post-war fiction in the United States, was born in Philadelphia in 1931. Much of his early career would be spent in journalism, both in the military and in the civilian world. A Guggenheim Fellowship in 1967 allowed him to write his first novel, Snow White (1967). He would spend the rest of his life teaching and writing fiction until his death in 1989.
Barthelme attended the University of Houston, where he majored in journalism, wrote sporadically, and contributed to the college newspaper and yearbook. He graduated in 1956. While in college, Barthelme became a reporter for the Houston Post in 1951. Two years later, in 1953, he was drafted into the U.S. Army and sent to Korea. There, he edited the army’s official newspaper, Stars and Stripes. After being discharged from the army, he returned to the Houston Post in 1955, but later that year took a public relations job at the University of Houston. In 1956, Barthelme founded Forum, the university’s literary magazine. Three years later, he joined the board of directors of the Houston Contemporary Arts Museum. After two years of serving as a board member, he was promoted to director of the museum.
In 1962, Barthelme moved to New York to edit an art and literary review magazine called Location. After Location failed, Barthelme moved to Denmark in 1965. A year later, he received the Guggenheim Fellowship Award and published his first novel, Snow White, in 1967. In 1972, Barthelme moved back to New York, where he taught until 1980, when he moved to Houston, Texas.
Barthelme’s writing has been said to reject traditional forms of writing and take on a life of its own. Many critics have not appreciated his writing because of its unusual nature. Other critics have dubbed it extremely modern and individualistic.
His first novel, Snow White, was a parody based upon both Grimm’s fairytale of Snow White and Disney’s version of the story. On the opposite side of the spectrum, Barthelme won a National Book Award in 1972 for his children’s book, The Slightly Irregular Fire Engine; or, the Hithering Thithering Djinn (1971). In 1981, Barthelme published his first collection of author’s best works, Sixty Stories, for which he won a PEN/Faulkner Award for fiction. In his lifetime, Barthelme received many prestigious awards. Along with his Guggenheim Fellowship in 1966, he also won Time magazine’s Best Books of the Year and the National Book Award for children’s literature. In 1972, he won the Morton Dauwen Zabel Award from the National Institute of Arts and Letters. Four years later, he won the Jesse H. Jones Award from the Texas Institute of Letters for The Dead Father. He also won the PEN/Faulkner Award for fiction and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize.
Barthelme died from cancer in Houston, Texas, on July 23, 1989.
Snow White. New York: Atheneum, 1967.
The Dead Father. New York: Farrar, Strauss, 1972.
Paradise. New York: Putnam, 1986.
The Slightly Irregular Fire Engine, or the Hithering Thithering Djinn. New York: Farrar, Straus, 1971.
Unspeakable practices, Unnatural Acts. New York: Farrar, Strauss, 1970.
City Life. New York: Farrar, Strauss, 1970.
Sadness. New York: Farrar, Strauss, 1972.
Amateurs. New York: Farrar, Strauss, 1976.
Great Days. New York: Farrar, Strauss, 1979.
Sixty Stories. New York: Putnam, 1981.
Overnight to Many Distant Cities. New York: Putnam, 1983.
Forty Stories. New York: Putnam, 1987.
“Donald Barthelme.” The Gale Literary Database: Contemporary Authors Online . 1 Mar. 1999. 28 Sept. 2011.
Garranty, John and Mark Carnes, ed. “Donald Barthelme.” American National Biography. New York: Oxford UP, 1999.