An American writer best known for novels that combine philosophical depth and complexity with biting satire and boisterous, frequently bawdy humour. Much of Barth’s writing is concerned with the seeming impossibility of choosing the right action in a world that has no absolute values.
John Simmons Barth was born May 27, 1930, and raised along the Eastern Shore of Maryland in Cambridge. His first calling was jazz. After he graduated high school in the spring of 1947, he attended the Julliard School of Music and studied elementary theory and advanced orchestration. Barth played the drums and had aspirations of becoming a musician or orchestrator but due to financial constraints, Barth transferred to Johns Hopkins University in the fall of 1947. Though he spent only a single summer semester at Julliard, music continues to influence his life and his writing.
It was at Johns Hopkins University where Barth moved in the direction of writing and began studying journalism “because it sounded easy,” he told Town &Gown in 1977. During his junior year, he realized that he had become attached to writing fiction, and he graduated with a major in creative writing in 1951.
During the "American high Sixties," he moved to teach at University at Buffalo, The State University of New York from 1965 to 1973. In that period he came to know "the remarkable short fiction" of the Argentine Jorge Luis Borges, which inspired his collection Lost in the Funhouse.
Barth's work is characterized by a historical awareness of literary tradition and by the practice of rewriting typical of postmodernism. His fiction maintains a precarious balance between postmodern self-consciousness and wordplay and the sympathetic characterization and "page-turning" plotting commonly associated with more traditional genres and subgenres of classic and contemporary storytelling.