John Barth

Honorary Degree Citation

John Barth

John Barth. Novelist, teacher, scholar, storyteller. Like Scheherazade in your beloved 1001 Arabian Nights, you have told us tales of algebra and miracles, of genies and goat-boys, of night sea journeys and funhouses, of the uncanny, unsettling world of men and women. At the center of these tales is your comic genius, your shocking verbal agility, and your unsentimental faith in the redeeming value of human love. “Narrative,” you have written, “equals language equals life. To cease to narrate, as the capital example of Scheherazade reminds us, is to die…” Your prose, full of the dizzying language of life, is unique in American letters, dazzling your readers with the erotic marriage of reality and invention, leaving us convinced that, as you wrote: “the truth of fiction is that fact is fantasy; and that the made-up story is a model of the world.” In addition to your groundbreaking work as a teller of tales, you also pioneered the teaching of creative writing as a scholarly discipline in your academic positions at Penn State, SUNY Buffalo, Boston University, and ultimately at Johns Hopkins, where you guided the Writing Seminars workshops from 1973 to 1995. Because of your generous, articulate, demanding guidance, a generation of young writers and teachers felt their lives change, and found that, like Scheherazade, the ability to render hope and fear into stories can bring love to our hearts and meaning to our lives. John Simmons Barth, on with the story!

By the authority of the Board of Trustees of Colby College, I confer upon you, John Simmons Barth, the degree of Doctor of Letters, honoris causa. The hood with which you have been invested and this diploma which I place in your hand are visible symbols of your membership in this society of scholars, to all the rights and privileges of which I declare you entitled.

Conferred May 27, 2007


John Barth is one of the most influential writers of the second half of the 20th century. He grew up in Maryland and studied at the Juilliard School and then at the Johns Hopkins University, where he earned his undergraduate degree and an M.F.A. Originally interested in journalism, he went on to become a novelist, professor, and short-story writer. He was nominated for the National Book Award in 1956 for The Floating Opera, and he won the award in 1968 for Chimera. His other best-known works include The Sot-Weed Factor (1960) and Giles Goat-Boy (1966). He is known as one of the fathers of creative writing as a scholarly discipline; he has taught at Pennsylvania State University, University at Buffalo (SUNY), Boston University, and, for 20 years, at his alma mater, Johns Hopkins, from which he retired in 1995. He is the author of 18 books of fiction, nonfiction, and essays. He was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters and to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and he received the F. Scott Fitzgerald Award for Distinguished Achievement in American Fiction in 1997.

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