What is E-Lit?

Electronic literature, or e-lit, 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, created in 2006 and with some entries from 2010, provides a selection outstanding examples of electronic literature, as do the two volumes of our Electronic Literature Collection.

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 the literary workings of 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. Electronic literature does not reside in any single medium or institution.

The ELO’s Role

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 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, serially in the Electronic Literature Collection, and perennially in the Library of Congress Archive-IT initiative. Through our conference series, we provide a way for artists, writers, and scholars to productively discuss existing work and to further develop the field.

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