Donald Barthelme was born in Philadelphia in 1931. He grew up in Texas and studied at the University of Houston, where he majored in journalism and became a reporter for the Houston Post, before being drafted into the Korean War. Barthelme then worked for several years at the Houston Contemporary Arts Museum, becoming director in 1962, before moving to New York to focus on writing.
Barthelme's literary reputation derives in part from his innovation of the short story form. He published his first story in 1961, and Come Back, Dr. Caligari, his first collection, in 1964. Barthelme's fragmented style, which eschewed traditional plot structure in favor of seemingly random detail and often included popular figures in absurd situations, produced a number of imitators and helped define the postmodern movement...Show More »
Barthelme ultimately published 10 more collections of stories, the majority of which had also been published in the New Yorker. The collection City Life, published in 1970, was named by Time magazine as one of the best books of the year. Sixty Stories (1982) was nominated for the National Book Critics Circle Award and the PEN/Faulkner Award. A posthumous collection, Flying to America, was published in 2007. Barthelme also wrote four novels — Snow White (1967), a parody of Grimm's fairy tale; The Dead Father (1975), a Freudian fable; Paradise (1986); and The King (published posthumously in 1990) — as well as several works of nonfiction. With his daughter, he wrote the children's book The Slightly Irregular Fire Engine, which received the National Book Award in 1972.
Barthelme, who taught at various universities during his career, was one of the founders of the University of Houston Creative Writing Program and of the literary journals Fiction and Gulf Coast. He also served as director of PEN and the Author's Guild. Barthelme died of throat cancer in Houston in 1990; his brothers, Frederick and Steven, are also acclaimed fiction writers.