John Barth’s career exemplifies the idea of a writer as a prolific and inventive creator. His oeuvre includes twenty books--novels, short stories, and essay collections. His fiction, at once playful and challenging, outrageously funny and deadly serious, is renowned for its formal innovation. Barth is often credited with the creation of an American variety of postmodern fiction—fiction that might incorporate multiple or fragmented plot structures, shifting points of view, or explicit references to its own artifice, a practice known as metafiction.
The literary and biographical forces that helped create Barth the writer are evident in his work. Barth grew up on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, which serves as a backdrop for many of his works. His literary influences range from the Homeric epics, to James Joyce and other modernist writers of the early twentieth century, to the labyrinthine storylines and existential quandaries in the works of Jorge Luis Borges and Samuel Beckett. Barth has identified four literary characters with particular sway on his artistic consciousness: Odysseus, Huckleberry Finn, Don Quixote, and Scheherazade. Each of these figures embodies the notion that the storyteller’s life is one of perpetual creation and re-creation.