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From Books to Bits: Library of Congress Electronic Literature Showcase Highlights Emerging Literary Forms

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This is a guest post by Susan Garfinkel, research specialist, Digital Reference Section at the Library of Congress.

Electronic literature—past, future and present—is the focus of a free three-day program at the Library of Congress, April 3 to 5. The Electronic Literature Showcase, sponsored by the Library’s Digital Reference Section, includes a variety of events designed to raise awareness of this rich and growing field of literary expression. The showcase includes an interactive exhibit and open house, a rare book display, digital preservation workshops, literary readings and a keynote address and scholarly panel discussion, all held in the Library of Congress Thomas Jefferson Building.

Amaranth Borsuk showing "Between Page and Screen," by kathiiberens, on Flickr
Amaranth Borsuk showing “Between Page and Screen,” by kathiiberens, on Flickr

Created with computers to take advantage of their unique capabilities, electronic literature builds upon but also extends familiar forms of literary expression by bringing to them new experimentation and interactivity. Poetry, fiction, creative non-fiction, and graphic novels are all transformed by underlying computer code in ways that can’t be replicated by traditional print publication.

Words dance across computer screens while games become poems become puzzles, or readers choose their own path through multi-layered hypertext narrative or use hand-held devices to view works that are location-aware. “Electronic literature,” explains guest curator Dene Grigar, “is a hybrid art form that requires its readers to utilize various sensory modalities, such as sight, sound, touch, movement, when experiencing it.”

Central to the showcase is Electronic Literature and Its Emerging Forms, a three-day interactive exhibit of electronic literature and related printed works that highlight the major strands of influence in the field. Held in the Library’s Whittall Pavilion starting each day at 10 am, the exhibit is curated by scholars Dene Grigar of Washington State University Vancouver and Kathi Inman Berens of Marylhurst University and the University of Southern California, who have previously mounted similar displays at the Modern Language Association’s annual scholarly conference.

This exhibit introduces five major strands of electronic literary expression, pairing each of those strands with their print-format contextual antecedents, drawn from the extensive printed materials in the Library’s collections. Interactive “creation stations” allow visitors to try their hand at some of the basic techniques that have inspired electronic literary authors while a digital preservation display highlights the rapidly changing environment of electronic media and formats in recent decades. On Friday, the exhibit will be extended with items from the Deena Larsen Collection, held at the Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities, University of Maryland. Guest curators, Library staff and trained student docents will all be on hand to guide visitors through the interactive experience.

Mark Sample plays beta "A Slow Year" on Atari VCS, by  kathiiberens, on Flickr
Mark Sample plays beta “A Slow Year” on Atari VCS, by kathiiberens, on Flickr

Additional Showcase events include “Electric Hour” readings by featured authors each day at noon and workshops on personal digital archiving. A display of rare artists’ books and early experimental printing will be hosted by curators of the Library’s Rare Book and Special Collections Division in the Lessing J. Rosenwald Room on Thursday, April 2, noon to 3 pm.

On the afternoon of April 5, the Showcase culminates with a keynote address and scholarly panel dicussion. Noted electronic-literary author and scholar Stuart Moulthrop will speak on “Failure to Contain: Electronic Literature, Digital Literacy, and the State (Machine) of Reading.” Following Moulthrop, literary scholars Berens and Grigar are joined by Matthew Kirschenbaum and Nick Montfort to collectively examine the state of electronic literary curation and analysis from a variety of perspectives.

Hours for the exhibit are 10 am – 4 pm on April 3 and 4, and 10 am – 1 pm on April 5; the closing keynote and panel begin at 2:30 on the 5th. A complete schedule and additional information about each event is available here. Visitors to the website can also learn more about electronic literature itself, and will find links to additional resources including a permanent Web site created by Grigar and Berens that documents the electronic literary works on display.

4/1/2013: modified description of the author.

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