John Barth



John Simmons Barth (; born May 27, 1930) is an American writer who is best known for his postmodern and metafictional fiction. His most highly regarded and influential works were published in the 1960s, and include ''The Sot-Weed Factor'', a satirical retelling of Maryland's colonial history, and '' Lost in the Funhouse'', a self-referential and experimental collection of short stories. Though Barth's work has been controversial among critics and readers, he was co-recipient of the National Book Award in 1973 for his novel ''Chimera'' with
John Williams John Towner Williams (born February 8, 1932)Nylund, Rob (15 November 2022)Classic Connection review '' WBOI'' ("For the second time this year, the Fort Wayne Philharmonic honored American composer, conductor, and arranger John Williams, who w ...
for ''
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''. Despite Barth's influence on postmodern literature in America, his influence and publicity have decreased since his novels were published.


John Barth, called "Jack", was born in Cambridge, Maryland. He has an older brother, Bill, and a twin sister Jill. In 1947 he graduated from Cambridge High School, where he played drums and wrote for the school newspaper. He briefly studied "Elementary Theory and Advanced Orchestration" at Juilliard before attending
Johns Hopkins University Johns Hopkins University (Johns Hopkins, Hopkins, or JHU) is a private university, private research university in Baltimore, Maryland. Founded in 1876, Johns Hopkins is the oldest research university in the United States and in the western hem ...
, where he received a B.A. in 1951 and an M.A. in 1952. His thesis novel, '' The Shirt of Nessus'', drew on his experiences at Johns Hopkins. Barth married Harriet Anne Strickland on January 11, 1950. He published two short stories that same year, one in Johns Hopkins's student literary magazine and one in ''The Hopkins Review''. His daughter, Christine Ann, was born in the summer of 1951. His son, John Strickland, was born the following year. From 1953 to 1965, Barth was a professor at
Pennsylvania State University The Pennsylvania State University (Penn State or PSU) is a Public university, public Commonwealth System of Higher Education, state-related Land-grant university, land-grant research university with campuses and facilities throughout Pennsylvan ...
, where he met his second and current wife, Shelly Rosenberg."John Barth" FAQ, His third child, Daniel Stephen, was born in 1954. During the "American high Sixties", he moved to teach at the State University of New York at Buffalo from 1965 to 1973. In that period he came to know "the remarkable short fiction" of the Argentine Jorge Luis Borges, which inspired his collection '' Lost in the Funhouse''. Barth later taught at Boston University as a visiting professor in 1972–73 and at
Johns Hopkins University Johns Hopkins University (Johns Hopkins, Hopkins, or JHU) is a private university, private research university in Baltimore, Maryland. Founded in 1876, Johns Hopkins is the oldest research university in the United States and in the western hem ...
from 1973 until he retired in 1995.

Literary work

Barth began his career with '' The Floating Opera'' and '' The End of the Road'', two short realist novels that deal wittily with controversial topics,
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respectively. They are straightforward realistic tales; as Barth later remarked, they "didn't know they were novels". '' The Sot-Weed Factor'' (1960) was initially intended as the completing novel of a trilogy comprising his first two "realist" novels, but, as a consequence of Barth's maturation as a writer, it developed into a different project.John Barth (1987) Foreword to Doubleday Anchor Edition of ''The Sot-Weed Factor'' The novel is significant as it marked Barth's discovery of
postmodernism Postmodernism is an intellectual stance or mode of discourseNuyen, A.T., 1992. The Role of Rhetorical Devices in Postmodernist Discourse. Philosophy & Rhetoric, pp.183–194. characterized by skepticism toward the " grand narratives" of modern ...
. Barth's next novel, ''
Giles Goat-Boy ''Giles Goat-Boy'' (1966) is the fourth novel by American writer John Barth. It is a metafictional comic novel in which the universe is portrayed as a university campus in an elaborate allegory of both the hero's journey and the Cold War ...
'' (about 800 pages), is a speculative fiction based on the conceit of the university as universe. Giles, a boy raised as a goat, discovers his humanity and becomes a savior in a story presented as a computer tape given to Barth, who denied that it was his work. In the course of the novel Giles carries out all the tasks prescribed by Joseph Campbell in '' The Hero with a Thousand Faces''. Barth kept a list of the tasks taped to his wall while he was writing the book. The short story collection '' Lost in the Funhouse'' (1968) and the novella collection '' Chimera'' (1972) are even more metafictional than their two predecessors, foregrounding the writing process and presenting achievements such as a seven-deep nested quotation. ''Chimera'' shared the U.S.
National Book Award for Fiction The National Book Award for Fiction is one of five annual National Book Awards, which recognize outstanding literary work by United States citizens. Since 1987 the awards have been administered and presented by the National Book Foundation, bu ...
. In the novel '' LETTERS'' (1979), Barth interacts with characters from his first six books. His 1994 ''Once Upon a Time: A Floating Opera'', reuses stock characters, stock situations and formulas.Clavier, Berndt (2007) ''John Barth and Postmodernism: Spatiality, Travel, Montage'' pp. 165–167

Styles, approaches and artistic criteria

Barth's work is characterized by a historical awareness of literary tradition and by the practice of rewriting typical of postmodernism. He said, "I don't know what my view of history is, but insofar as it involves some allowance for repetition and recurrence, reorchestration, and reprise ..I would always want it to be more in the form of a thing circling out and out and becoming more inclusive each time."Elias, Amy J. (2001
''Sublime Desire: History and Post-1960s Fiction''
p. 224.
In Barth's postmodern sensibility,
parody A parody, also known as a spoof, a satire, a send-up, a take-off, a lampoon, a play on (something), or a caricature, is a creative work designed to imitate, comment on, and/or mock its subject by means of satiric or ironic imitation. Often its s ...
is a central device. Around 1972, in an interview, Barth declared that "The process f making a novelis the content, more or less." Barth's fiction continues to maintain a precarious balance between postmodern self-consciousness and wordplay and the sympathetic characterization and "page-turning" plotting commonly associated with more traditional genres and subgenres of classic and contemporary storytelling.


While writing these books, Barth was also pondering and discussing the theoretical problems of fiction writing. In 1967, he wrote a highly influential and, to some, controversial essay considered a manifesto of postmodernism, '' The Literature of Exhaustion'' (first printed in ''
The Atlantic ''The Atlantic'' is an American magazine and multi-platform publisher. It features articles in the fields of politics, foreign affairs, business and the economy, culture and the arts, technology, and science. It was founded in 1857 in Boston, ...
'', 1967). It depicts literary realism as a "used-up" tradition; Barth's description of his own work, which many thought illustrated a core trait of postmodernism, is "novels which imitate the form of a novel, by an author who imitates the role of author". The essay was widely considered a statement of " the death of the novel", (compare with Roland Barthes' "The Death of the Author"). Barth has since insisted that he was merely making clear that a particular stage in history was passing, and pointing to possible directions from there. He later (1980) wrote a follow-up essay, "The Literature of Replenishment", to clarify the point.


*1956 — National Book Award finalist for ''The Floating Opera''"National Book Awards – 1956"
National Book Foundation. Retrieved 2012-03-30.
*1966 — National Institute of Arts and Letters grant in literature *1965 — The Brandeis University creative arts award in fiction *1965-66 — The Rockefeller Foundation grant in fiction *1968 — Nominated for the National Book Award for '' Lost in the Funhouse'' *1973 — Shared the National Book Award for ''Chimera'' with John Edward Williams for ''
Augustus Caesar Augustus (born Gaius Octavius; 23 September 63 BC – 19 August AD 14), also known as Octavian, was the first Roman emperor; he reigned from 27 BC until his death in AD 14. He is known for being the founder of the Roman Pr ...
''"National Book Awards – 1973"
National Book Foundation. Retrieved 2012-03-30.
(With acceptance speech by Barth and two essays by Harold Augenbraum from the Awards' 60-year anniversary blog. The essay nominally about Williams and ''Augustus'' includes Augenbraum's discussion of the split award.)
*1974 — Elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters *1974 — Fellow of the
American Academy of Arts and Sciences The American Academy of Arts and Sciences (abbreviation: AAA&S) is one of the oldest learned societies in the United States The United States of America (U.S.A. or USA), commonly known as the United States (U.S. or US) or America, is ...
*1997 — F. Scott Fitzgerald Award for Outstanding Achievement in American Fiction *1998 — Lannan Foundation Lifetime Achievement Award *1998 — PEN/Malamud Award for Excellence in the Short Story *1999 — Enoch Pratt Society's Lifetime Achievement in Letters Award *2008 — Roozi Rozegari, Iranian literature prize for best foreign work translation '' The Floating Opera''John Barth's statement to Iranian literary prize, Roozi Rozegari

Selected works


*'' The Floating Opera'' (1956) *'' The End of the Road'' (1958) *'' The Sot-Weed Factor'' (1960) *'' Giles Goat-Boy, or, The Revised New Syllabus'' (1966) *'' Lost in the Funhouse: Fiction for Print, Tape, Live Voice'' (stories) (1968) *'' Chimera'' (three linked novellas) (1972) *'' LETTERS'' (1979) *'' Sabbatical: A Romance'' (1982) *'' The Tidewater Tales'' (1987) *'' The Last Voyage of Somebody the Sailor'' (1991) *'' Once Upon a Time: A Floating Opera'' (memoirish novel) (1994) *''On with the Story'' (stories) (1996) *'' Coming Soon!!!: A Narrative'' (2001) *''The Book of Ten Nights and a Night: Eleven Stories'' (2004) *'' Where Three Roads Meet'' (three linked novellas) (2005) *'' The Development: Nine Stories'' (2008) *'' Every Third Thought: A Novel in Five Seasons'' (2011) *''Collected Stories'' (2015)


*''The Friday Book: Essays and Other Nonfiction'' (1984) *''Further Fridays: Essays, Lectures, and Other Nonfiction, 1984-1994'' (1995) *''Final Fridays: Essays, Lectures, Tributes & Other Nonfiction, 1995-'' (2012) *''Postscripts (or Just Desserts): Some Final Scribblings'' (2022)

See also

* Maryland literature

Notes and references

Further reading

*Rovit, Earl, "The Novel as Parody: John Barth." ''Critique'' 6 (Fall 1963). * * * * * * * * Dean, Gabrielle, and Charles B. Harris, eds. (2016). ''John Barth: A Body of Words.'' Dalkey Archive Press. 978-1-56478-869-6

External links

* Vida, Obra y Libros usado
de John Barth
* * * *
North American Postmodern Fiction: John Barth

Barth audio goodies at the Lannan site

Barth on KCRW's radio program 'Bookworm' with Michael Silverblatt

a short story by John Barth centered on hypertextuality

{{DEFAULTSORT:Barth, John 20th-century American novelists 20th-century American male writers American short story writers American parodists Parody novelists Postmodern writers Fellows of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences Members of the American Academy of Arts and Letters National Book Award winners People from Cambridge, Maryland Novelists from Maryland Boston University faculty Johns Hopkins University alumni Johns Hopkins University faculty Juilliard School alumni Pennsylvania State University faculty University at Buffalo faculty PEN/Malamud Award winners 1930 births Living people 21st-century American novelists American male novelists American male short story writers Novelists from Pennsylvania Novelists from Massachusetts Novelists from New York (state) 21st-century American male writers