John Barth

American writer (1930–2024)

John Simmons Barth (May 27, 1930April 2, 2024) was an American novelist and short-story writer, known for the postmodernist and metafictive quality of his work.

John Barth (1995)


  • Women thought me charmingly shy, and sometimes stopped at nothing to “penetrate the disdainful shell of my fear,” as one of their number put it. Often as not, it was they who got penetrated.
  • The nightsea journey may be absurd, but here we swim, will-we nill-we, against the flood, onward and upward, toward a shore that may not exist and couldn't be reached if it did.
  • Marylin Marsh, who had about it with Spain, declared to him [the old Spanish man] [...] But it redounds to your national credit, the then Missus Turner went on in effect - she'd been reading up on reciprocal atrocities in the Guerra Civil - that the sunny Spanish could never be guilty of an Auschwitz, for example. In the first place, your ovens would have died, like our kitchen stove, instead of your Jews, whom you'd got rid of anyhow in the sunny Fifteenth century, no? And in the second place the whole idea of extermination camps would've been too impersonal for your exquisite Moorish tastes. Much more agradable to push folks off a cliff one at a time into a gorgeous Mediterranean sunset, as you did near Malaga - three hundred, was it, or three thousand? Or to rape and then kill a convent-full of nuns in the manner of the saint of their choice - was that Barcelona or Valencia?
  • One of the things I miss about teaching is that students would tell me what I ought to read. One of my students, back in the 1960s, put me onto [Jorge Luis] Borges, and I remember another mentioning Flann O'Brien's At Swim Two-Birds in the same way.
    • Boston Sunday Globe, C7 (2 Nov 2008)

Quotes about John Barth

  • I got a lot of encouragement there from John Barth, a genius, a superb teacher
  • [Johns] Hopkins had this very postmodernist slant. You couldn't help but be really influenced by this emphasis on the text, on experimental texts. People were fascinated with Robert Coover and Thomas Pynchon, and John Barth was there, and the focus was on that, which I found very helpful.
  • for me, self-consciousness vitiates creation. A writer like John Barth deliberately plays with self-consciousness; I doubt that Barth thinks much of my writing, and I don't take pleasure in his, but I know he knows what he's doing and I respect him for it.
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