Photograph from “The Postmodernists Dinner,” 1983 by Jill Krementz (b. 1940)
From the University of Houston’s collection of Barthelme’s papers. The entry’s description:
Left to right: unidentified, unidentified, Donald Barthelme, John Barth, Robert Coover (turned), unidentified, Kurt Vonnegut, Walter Abish (with patch), William Gaddis (squatting), unidentified, William Gass, unidentified, unidentified. In 1983, Barthelme arranged a “Postmodernists Dinner” for the group of writers who were often lumped together under the “postmodernist” label. The reclusive Thomas Pynchon declined the invitation.
It would be swell if anyone could identify the women in the photograph. [Ed. note–the woman to Walter Abish’s left (behind Gass) is the artist Cecile Abish, Walter’s wife. Thanks to Terry in the comments.]
In his 2009 Barthelme biography Hiding Man, Tracy Daugherty offers the following recollection of the “Postmodernist Dinner” from novelist Walter Abish:
Around this time — in the spring of 1983 — “Donald had this idea to make a dinner in SoHo,” says Water Abish. “A major dinner for a group of writers, and he planned it very, very carefully. It was a strange event. Amusing and intriguing. He invited…well, that was the thing of it. The list. I was astounded that he consulted me but he called and said, ‘Should we invite so-and-so?’ Naturally, I did the only decent thing and said ‘Absolutely’ to everyone he mentioned. I pushed for Gaddis. Gass was there, and Coover and Hawkes, Vonnegut and his wife, Jill Krementz, who took photographs, I think. Don’s agent, Lynn Nesbit, was there. She was always very friendly. Susan Sontag was the only woman writer invited.
Pynchon couldn’t make it. He wrote Don to apologize. He said he was ‘between coasts, Arkansas or Lubbock or someplace like ‘at.”
Abish recollects that the meal was at a very expensive restaurant, prefix, and the writers had to pay their own way. There were about 21 attendees, and Barthelme was “Very, very dour.”
Here is Pynchon’s letter declining the invite (via Jessamyn West, both on Twitter and her wonderful Donald Barthelme appreciation page):
I had never seen the photograph until today when Ethelmer shared it with me on Twitter. Thanks!