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John Barth Biography

(1930– ), The Floating Opera, The End of the Road, The Sot-Weed Factor

American novelist and short-story writer, born in Cambridge, Maryland, educated at Julliard School of Music, New York City, where he studied orchestration, but he turned towards an academic career in literature after completing a Master's degree at Johns Hopkins University. From 1953 until 1965 he taught in the Department of English at Pennsylvania State University and he was a Professor of English at the State University of New York at Buffalo between 1965 and 1973; in 1973 he became Centennial Professor of English and Creative Writing at Johns Hopkins. His first two novels, The Floating Opera (1956; revised edition 1967) and The End of the Road (1958; revised edition 1967) are realistic in their fictional techniques but also show the preoccupation with abstract, metaphysical problems and his gift for comedy that characterize the later fiction on which his reputation largely rests. His third novel, The Sot-Weed Factor (1960), perhaps his greatest, is an exuberant, immensely inventive, pastiche of late seventeenth-century English prose that centres around the progress of the poet Ebenezer Cooke in the New World. This was followed by Giles Goat-Boy; or, The Revised New Syllabus (1966), an equally ambitious novel in which the world is fictionally re-imagined as a giant university divided into ‘East’ and ‘West’ campuses, each controlled by giant computers. His later writings include two volumes of short stories, Lost in the Funhouse (1968) (see metafiction) and Chimera (1972), and the novels, Letters (1979), an epistolary novel notable for its post-modernist use of the author as one of the characters; Sabbatical: A Romance (1982); The Tidewater Tales: A Novel (1987); and Last Voyage of Somebody the Sailor (1991). In addition, he has published two volumes of non-fictional prose, The Literature of Exhaustion, and the Literature of Replenishment (1982) and The Friday Book: Essays and Other Non-Fiction (1984). He has been the recipient of grants from the Rockefeller Foundation and the American Academy, and he won the National Book Award in 1973. See Passionate Virtuosity: The Fiction of Barth (1983), by Charles B. Harris.

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Literature Reference: American Literature, English Literature, Classics & Modern FictionEncyclopedia of Literature: Houston A. Baker (Houston Alfred to Sally Beauman Biography