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Donald Barthelme, Slightly Irregular Pseudonyms

Weaving philosophic perspectives into a storybook and commenting on American political stigmas, Donald Barthelme is back in another interview reprieve with Charles Ruas and Judith Sherman. In this episode, Barthelme reads his children’s book; The Slightly Irregular Fire Engine, and from his short stories; Swallowing, Royal Treatment, A Yankee Way of Knowledge, and The Photographs. These short stories were originally published in respected newspapers and magazines but were later compiled in Guilty Pleasures and the Teachings of Don B.

The first piece that Barthelme reads is Swallowing. The story sheds light on his frustrations with the American people in light the Watergate scandal, assassination attempts on Fidel Castro, and U.S. war zone exploits. The short story serves as a good jumping off point in demonstrating his range as a writer. Barthelme explains that some of his work should be viewed as op-ed pieces, as opposed to straight fiction texts. In the interview, he also discusses Lily McNeil, the female pseudonym that he created so that he might contribute to Cosmopolitan magazine. McNeil wrote The Royal Treatment, as well. During their discussion, Ruas also connects Barthelme’s name to his collection of short stories, The Teachings of Don B.

Barthelme also talks briefly about being a father and what spurred him to write a children’s book. He took a unique approach when writing The Slightly Irregular Fire Engine; he used found images from the Victorian era to dictate the content of the book. The results have led some to liken it to the texts of Socrates and Balzac.

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.