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, ELO includes writers, artists, teachers, scholars, and developers.

The Electronic Literature Organization was initiated 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, founding the organization in Chicago. In the fall of 2001, ELO moved its headquarters to the University of California, Los Angeles, where 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 ELO headquarters came to the University of Maryland, College Park. ELO was housed at and sponsored by the Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities (MITH). The summer of 2011 marked ELO’s move to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, thanks to support from the Program in Writing and Humanistic Studies and The Trope Tank.

ELO has grown to be a vital part of the electronic literature community. In 2001 the Organization ran the Electronic Literature Awards program, still the only one of its sort, that recognized exemplary works of poetry and fiction and rewarded winners with substantial cash prizes. ELO also undertook the PAD (Preservation, Archiving, and Dissemination) project from 2002-2005, which involved a conference, e(X)literature, at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and resulted in the publications Acid-Free Bits and Born-Again Bits.

Landmark events in the organization’s short history have included the launch of an acclaimed database-driven Electronic Literature Directory maintained by scholars and visited by thousands of readers; readings and outreach events in Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Philadelphia, Seattle, and the Washington, D.C. area; the publication of two volumes of the Electronic Literature Collection, each with about 60 works of electronic literature and each edited by a different editorial collective; and a conference series that has run from the State of the Arts Symposium at UCLA in 2002 to the 2013 conference in Paris, Chercher le texte.

ELO Events Since 1999

ELO’s 2013 conference, Chercher le text, held in September, was hosted by the Université Paris 8 in Paris, France.

In 2012, ELO organized the Electrifying Literature: Affordances and Constraints conference, hosted by the University of West Virginia, Morgantown.

As a welcome to MIT in September 2011, ELO participated in an Open House / Open Mic / Open Mouse event as part of the Purple Blurb series.

Brown University hosted ELO’s 2010 conference, Archive and Innovate, in June.

ELO’s May 2008 conference, Visionary Landscapes, was hosted by Washington State University, Vancouver.

In conjunction with The Future of Electronic Literature symposium, ELO hosted an Open Mic and Mouse event at the University of Maryland, College Park.

In May, 2007, ELO organized The Future of Electronic Literature symposium, hosted at the University of Maryland, College Park.

With the Kelly Writers House, ELO presented readings in the MACHINE series in Philadelphia. The series ran from 2004 to 2007.

With the UCLA Department of English, UCLA Design/Media Arts, and the Griffith University Centre for Public Culture and Ideas, ELO sponsored a presentation/reading by digital poet/artist Jason Nelson at UCLA in November 2005. The video of this event is archived at the UCLA Design/Media Arts Experimental Digital Arts (EDA) website.

With New Radio and Performing Arts, Inc., ELO put on the readings Re:Writing – Writers, Computers, and Networks in Providence and Boston in April 2005.

HyperText: Explorations in Electronic Literature was a reading series at the UCLA Hammer Museum which ran from October 2003-May 2004.

ELO was a sponsor of Self-Organizing Systems: rEvolutionary Art, Science, and Literature at UCLA in April 2004.

ELO sponsored one academic and one creative session at the May-June 2003 ACH/ALLC (Association for Computers and the Humanities Association for Literary and Linguistic Computing) conference.

In April 2003, ELO sponsored the e(X)literature conference at the University of California, Santa Barbara, which centered around issues of preservation, archiving and dissemination in electronic literature. The conference also allowed for discussion of ELO’s PAD project, which began in 2002.

ELO sponsored online chats, hosted at trAce and at LinguaMOO, in 2000, 2001, 2002, and 2003. The archives of these online discussions are available, listed by year.

The State of the Arts Symposium at UCLA on April 4-7, 2002 brought together a crowd of electronic literature authors and critics for panels, papers, and an e-lit gallery.

The 2001 Electronic Literature Awards in fiction and poetry provided two $10,000 prizes, one in each genre, for outstanding electronic literature works.

ELO also sponsored the highly successful Boston T1 Party in April 2001 and the Chicago readings GiG in December 1999 and GiG 2.0 in December 2000.


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 thank also the Illinois Humanities Council and the Illinois Arts Council, which supported the 2001-2002 Interactions program, the 2001 Awards and founding sponsor ZDNet, and founding sponsor NBCi. Thanks to the U.S. National Endowment for the Humanities for their support via a Digital Humanities Startup Grant.