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Barthelme, Donald

Entry updated 23 January 2023. Tagged: Author.

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(1931-1989) US author known primarily as a surrealist and black humorist. Most of his short fiction and at least three of his four novels can be described as Fabulations (see also Absurdist SF): Snow White (1967), an absurdist dissection of the fairy tale; The Dead Father (1975), in which the giant figure of a moribund Father is escorted with trauma and ritual to its final resting place; and The King (1990), which imagines King Arthur and his knights in World War Two. Barthelme's early collections especially – like Come Back, Dr Caligari (coll 1964), Unspeakable Practices, Unnatural Acts (coll 1968) and City Life (coll 1970) – present in the form of discontinuous spoofs and Iconoclasms a number of ideas and themes taken from Mythology, fantasy and sf. They are mostly set in New York, where they seem native. Many of them have been reprinted in sf Anthologies.

The central canon of Barthelme's works – his short fiction as a whole – was conveniently assembled in three volumes as Sixty Stories (coll 1981), Forty Stories (coll 1987), both arranged according to his wishes, and Flying to America: 45 More Stories (coll 2007). A supplemental volume, The Teachings of Don B: Satires, Parodies, Fables, Illustrated Stories, and Plays (coll 1992) completes, as per its subtitle, the presentation of his essential shorter work. Collected Stories (coll 2021) resorts most of the above. [PR/JC]

see also: Fantasy Entries; Magic Realism.

Donald Barthelme Jr

born Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: 7 April 1931

died Houston, Texas: 23 July 1989


  • Snow White (New York: Atheneum, 1967) [hb/Lawrence Ratzkin]
  • The Dead Father (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1975) [hb/Ruth Ansel]
  • The King (New York: Harper and Row, 1990) [illus/hb/Barry Moser]

collections and stories


about the author


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