Donald Barthelme
The Genesis of a Cool Sound
Literary Criticism
6 x 9, 246 pp.
25 b&w photos.
Pub Date: 05/01/2001
Tarleton State University Southwestern Studies in the Humanities
Price:        $29.95


Published by Texas A&M University Press

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Donald Barthelme

The Genesis of a Cool Sound

By Helen Moore Barthelme

Chronicling a literary life that ended not so long ago, Donald Barthelme: The Genesis of a Cool Sound gives the reader a glimpse at the years when Barthelme began to find his literary voice. A revealing look at Donald Barthelme's influences and development, this account begins with a detailed biographical sketch of his life and spans his growth into a true avant-garde literary figure.

Donald Barthleme was born in Philadelphia but raised in Houston, the son of a forward-thinking architect father and a literary mother. Educated at the University of Houston, he became a fine arts critic for the Houston Post; then, following duty in the Korean conflict, he returned to the Post for a short time before becoming editor for Forum literary magazine. After that, he was also director of the Contemporary Arts Museum while writing and publishing his first stories.

In the 1960s he moved to New York, where he became editor of Location and was able to practice the art of short fiction in such vehicles as the New Yorker and Harper's Bazaar. In a witty, playful, ironic, and bizarrely imaginative style, he wrote more than one hundred short stories and several novels over the years.

In this literary memoir, Donald Barthelme's former wife, Helen Moore Barthelme, offers insights into his career as well as his private life, focusing especially on the decade they were married, from the mid-fifties to the mid-sixties, a period when he was developing the forms and genres that made him famous. During that time Barthelme was finding his voice as a writer and his short stories were beginning to receive notice. In her memoir, Helen Moore Barthelme writes about Donald's early years and her life with him in Houston and New York. In open, straightforward language she tells about their love for each other and about the events that finally divided them. She also describes, from the point of view of the person closest to Donald during that time, the making of one of the most original and imaginative American writers of the twentieth century.

Scholars of avant-garde American literature will gain insider perspective to one man's life and the years which, for all their myriad joys and downturns, produced some of the best-remembered works in the literary canon.

Helen Moore Barthelme is senior lecturer of English at Texas A&M University. Former professor at the University of Houston and Dominican College in Houston, she holds the Ph.D. from the University of Texas at Austin.

What Readers Are Saying:

“. . . clear-eyed but affectionate memoir” --The Dallas Morning News

“. . . a welcome addition to information about one of the US’s most important, and creative, postmodern experimental writers. . . . this book provides a plethora of hitherto unpublished information and insights, which, though often painful, will be of great value and interest to scholars and fans of this now-established, challenging, oft-imitated, and innovative writer who has had an immense influence on the nature and development of the short story. A great debt is thus due to Helen Moore Barthelme for having the courage and taking the time and effort to write this sensitive and personal account of the most important period in the life of one of postmodernism’s leading writers.” --CHOICE

“Helen Moore Barthelme (English, Texas A&M), who was married to the writer Donald Barthelme (1931-89) from 1956 to 1965, has written a touching memoir of their life together and a psychological and critical introduction to his life and art. Her personal insights into Barthelme’s short story collection Come Back, Dr. Caligari and the novel Snow White are invaluable. The author describes Barthelme’s family, friends, and reading habits, focusing on his time in Houston and New York, work as an editor and museum director, and struggles to create an individual voice. Whether she is addressing her ex-husband’s marriages, his alcoholism, or her own life and career, the author writes with clear-sighted honesty. She is especially adept at describing Houston’s cultural life, women’s issues, and her poignant and sorrowful view of her relationship with Barthelme. In addition, she has a sharp eye for architectural and design elements of houses and cities. Recommended for literature collections.” --Library Journal

“Barthelme, a senior lecturer of English at Texas A&M University, was married to Donald Barthelme for a decade in the 1950s and ‘60s; here she ably recounts Donald’s emergence as an important experimental American author who produced over 100 works of short fiction and several novels. This engaging, unpretentious recollection of “Don,” who died in 1989 or cancer at age 58, covers events from his childhood in Houston as the soon of a famous architect father, to his development into an “exciting,” if often “puzzling,” thinker and writer. . . . She also conveys Donald’s seemingly troubled (yet not quite tragic) life, including the alcoholism and intimacy phobia that plagued many modern and postmodern American male writers. Helen Barthelme’s frank prose never passes personal opinion off as fact of fawns over its subject; clearly, her own life has been professionally and personally rich. One senses behind this account a pure impulse to document the life and work of a notable American artist; it will benefit scholars and general readers alike.” --Publishers Weekly

“One of the virtues, and sadnesses, of Helen Barthelme’s interesting account is its revelation of just how melancholy the life behind the polished surfaces of Donald’s stories actually was.” --Texas Monthly

“Her recent memoir, Donals Barthelme: The Gensis of a Cool Sound is and always will be required reading for anyone doing serious scholarship on the novelist assures her book a rich afterlife. I am proud to have known her.” --The Bryan-College Station Eagle

Donald Barthelme: The Genesis of a Cool Sound by Helen Moore Barthelme is a balanced examination of the life and early career of Barthelme, a leading post-modernist American writer and the oldest brother in a super-talented Houston family. Her portrait of him always feels fair, and the story of his transforming himself into a considerable literary artist is gripping.” --Texas Books in Review

Chronicling a literary life that ended not so long ago, Donald Barthelme, by Donald’s former wife, begins with a detailed sketch of his life and spans his growth into one of the most original and imaginative writers of the twentieth century. “. . . a touching memoir . . .” --Library Journal


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