The Electronic Literature Organization was founded in 1999 to foster and promote the reading, writing, teaching, and understanding of literature as it develops and persists in a changing digital environment. A 501c(3) non-profit organization, the ELO includes writers, artists, teachers, scholars, and developers.
People of the ELO
The board of directors, headed by Nick Montfort, our president, plans and implements ELO programs and projects. After five years at UCLA, in 2006, ELO moved to the Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities (MITH) at the University of Maryland, College Park. In 2011 the ELO moved to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Mass. The literary advisory board provides guidance and offers the perspective of the broader literary community. Members of the ELO provide some financial support and form a community that participates in conferences, online chats, and other events.
- To bring born-digital literature to the attention of authors, scholars, developers, and the current generation of readers for whom the printed book is no longer an exclusive medium of education or aesthetic practice.
- To build a network of affiliated organizations in academia, the arts, and business.
- To coordinate the collection, preservation, description, and discussion of works in accessible forums, according to peer-to-peer review standards and technological best practices.
In pursuit of these goals over the long term, the ELO employs the following strategies:
- Hosting regular conferences and symposia to bring artists, writers, teachers, developers, and scholars into contact with each other and to build a larger audience for the digital arts.
- Sponsoring and distributing the biennial Electronic Literature Collection.
- Featuring a curated online showcase of electronic literature on its website.
- Maintaining the Electronic Literature Directory for open source, semantic web-based development.
- Engaging a team of graduate students and international scholars with a career commitment to the field of electronic literature, to coordinate submissions to our collections and stay current with curatorial and technical standards.
- Offering online access to essays about and syllabi for electronic literature.
- Completing the DVD-ROM publication of the Electronic Literature Collection volume 2, which has already been made available on the Web.
- Continuing the development of the Electronic Literature Directory, a resource for critical writing on e-lit.
- Preparation for the 2012 ELO conference at West Virginia University.
What is Electronic Literature?
The term refers to works with important literary aspects that take advantage of the capabilities and contexts provided by the stand-alone or networked computer. Within the broad category of electronic literature are several forms and threads of practice, some of which are:
- Hypertext fiction and poetry, on and off the Web
- Kinetic poetry presented in Flash and using other platforms
- Computer art installations which ask viewers to read them or otherwise have literary aspects
- Conversational characters, also known as chatterbots
- Interactive fiction
- Novels that take the form of emails, SMS messages, or blogs
- Poems and stories that are generated by computers, either interactively or based on parameters given at the beginning
- Collaborative writing projects that allow readers to contribute to the text of a work
- Literary performances online that develop new ways of writing
The ELO showcase, to which new works are continually added, provides a few outstanding examples of electronic literature.
The field of electronic literature is an evolving one. Literature today not only migrates from print to electronic media; increasingly, “born digital” works are created explicitly for the networked computer. The ELO seeks to bring this network and the process-intensive aspects of literature into visibility.
The confrontation with technology at the level of creation is what distinguishes electronic literature from, for example, e-books, digitized versions of print works, and other products of print authors ‘going digital.’
Electronic literature often intersects with conceptual and sound arts, but reading and writing remain central to the literary arts. These activities, unbound by pages and the printed book, now move freely through galleries, performance spaces, and museums. But electronic literature does not reside in any single medium or institution.
Because information technology is driven increasingly by proprietary concerns, authors working in new media need the support of institutions that can advocate for the preservation, archiving, and free circulation of literary work. The ELO has from the start made common cause with organizations such as Creative Commons, Archiving the Avant Garde, ArchiveIT.org, and the United States Library of Congress, to ensure the open circulation, attributed citation, and preservation of works, without which no field can develop.
Equally important is the discovery of talent and common areas of interest among our membership. Our affiliation with numerous organizations attests to the extensive network of people who produce works and the growing audience that reads, discusses, and teaches e-lit. The collection and circulation of works is another way that developments in the field are recorded and made available to our membership – continuously in the Electronic Literature Directory, periodically at our online Showcase, bi-annually in the Electronic Literature Collection, and perennially in the Library of Congress Archive-IT initiative.
History of the ELO
The Electronic Literature Organization was initiated in 1999 by electronic author Scott Rettberg, novelist Robert Coover, and internet business leader Jeff Ballowe. Realizing the promise that electronic media offered for literature but the lack of a supporting infrastructure, the three assembled a board of directors that included writers, publishers, internet industry leaders, and literary nonprofit experts to found this not-for-profit organization.
In the fall of 2001, the ELO moved its headquarters from Chicago to the University of California, Los Angeles, where the ELO received generous assistance from the UCLA English Department, SINAPSE (Social Interfaces and Networks in Advanced Programmable Simulations and Environments) and the Design|Media Arts Department.
After five productive years at UCLA, in the summer of 2006 the ELO moved to the Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities (MITH) at the University of Maryland, College Park, where Professor Matthew Kirschenbaum, MITH’s Associate Director, is the ELO’s faculty advisor. The summer of 2011 marked the ELO’s move to the MIT community.
The ELO has grown to be a vital part of the electronic literature community. Landmark events in the organization’s short history have included the launch of an acclaimed database-driven Directory of electronic literature maintained by authors and visited by thousands of readers; readings and outreach events in Chicago, New York, Seattle, Boston, and Los Angeles; an Electronic Literature Awards program that recognized exemplary works of poetry and fiction and rewarded winners with substantial cash prizes; the State of the Arts Symposium which united over one hundred international writers, scholars, and publishers of electronic literature at UCLA for two days of panels and presentations; and a yearlong reading series to showcase the latest advances in the emerging field of electronic literature.
The ELO acknowledges the support of the Ford Foundation for the 2002 State of the Arts Symposium, and the Rockefeller Foundation for their generous support of the Electronic Literature Directory project. We also thank our hosts at UCLA: the Center for Digital Humanities, the English Department, the Design| Media Arts Department, the School of the Arts and Architecture, and SINAPSE. We thank also the Illinois Humanities Council and the Illinois Arts Council, which supported the 2001-2002 Interactions program, and 2001 Awards and founding sponsor ZDNet and founding sponsor NBCi.
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