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Donald Barthelme, Playing with Petrol

From a city developer building Texan petroleum sites to a man eagerly awaiting the mailman with the post, Donald Barthelme’s characters are paranoid, sardonic, and witty (much like the writer himself). They have been introduced in esteemed literary magazines such as The New Yorker and The Paris Review. In this episode, Barthelme reads from his novel, The Dead Father and the short stories; I Bought a Little City, The Great Hug, The Agreement, Guilty Pleasures, and Nothing: A Preliminary Account.

Barthelme talks with Charles Ruas and Judy Sherman about his Texan upbringing, attempt to get a degree in philosophy from the University of Huston, work as a reporter, and efforts to be a writer in New York City. Having personal and professional ties with the art world, the writer explains how contemporary art, film, and philosophy have impacted his work. He emphasizes his interest in creating a dialogue with a reader through jest.

Before anything else, however, Barthelme expounds upon his concept of having a “literary father,” as a figure that guides writers through their own literary pursuits. According to him, one's literary father can change based on periods in ones own career. Barthelme himself has identified with both Faulkner and Hemingway, because both were former journalists. After identifying a father, he believes that a writer can better come into his or her own.

Donald Barthelme (1931-1989) was an original and experimental American writer best known for his essays and short fiction. He grew up in Texas, where he began his career as a journalist. After building several connections with the New York art world, he moved to NYC where he continued to write for numerous journals including: The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Paris Review, and The Atlantic Journal. He later returned to his native state, where he continued to work as an English professor. Historical allusions and political events are embedded within his work, as well as notes on his personal biography. Barthelme broke conventional story structures and pushed language to its very limit. Without great success, many have tried to categorize this reclusive writer. Some have called him an “anti-novelist”, others a “minimalist,” a “meta-fictionist,” an “absurdist,” and the “final post-Enlightenment writer."


Historic Audio from the Archives of Charles Ruas


An unparalleled collection of recovered and restored programs from the seventies produced by Charles Ruas, and featuring Allen Ginsberg, John Giorno, Anaïs Nin, William Boroughs, Buckminster Fuller, Sylvia Plath, Pablo Neruda, and Jorge Luis Borges, among numerous others. 

Playing Hooky


A weekly live concert series, recorded posted alongside insightful interviews with the performers, such as Frankie Cosmos, Helado Negro, Ikue Mori, Ned Rothenberg, and more.