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Author explores possibilities for experimental digital literature

When Joseph Tabbi thinks about digital literature, the final author in the Spring 2019 University of Houston-Victoria/American Book Review Reading Series doesn’t look at Kindles and e-books, he looks for works that incorporate different elements as part of the storytelling experience.

Joseph Tabbi

“To really experience electronic literature, there needs to be so much more than just the words,” Tabbi said. “The words should be part of a larger combination that includes media, art, design and programming. That is how a digital aesthetic is created.”

Tabbi is the author of “Nobody Grew but the Business: On the Life and Work of William Gaddis” and “Cognitive Fictions,” and he is a critic of digital literature. His presentation will be at 11 a.m. May 2 in the UHV University West Alcorn Auditorium, 3007 N. Ben Wilson St. The event is free and open to the public.

Jeffrey Di Leo

“Joseph Tabbi offers a welcome perspective on digital literature and how different elements can combine to tell a story,” said Jeffrey Di Leo, ABR editor and publisher, and dean of the UHV School of Arts & Sciences. “The examples he shares with the community will offer a glimpse into the past and present works created by so many talented digital artists and writers.”

During his presentation, Tabbi plans to showcase some of the electronic literature that has been created through the years from the early days of the internet to the day of the presentation. One particular example will be “Sea and Spar Between,” a website created by Nick Montfort and Stephanie Strickland that constantly is combining lines from Emily Dickinson’s poems with phrases from Herman Melville’s “Moby Dick.” The website can be found at nickm.com/montfort_strickland/sea_and_spar_between.

Although digital literature has a history of experimentation and exploring possibilities through the freedom offered online, that freedom is not as easily achieved in today’s online atmosphere, Tabbi said.

“When writers first started creating these online, experimental pieces, it was long before Google, Facebook, Amazon or so many of the mainstream internet giants available today,” Tabbi said. “Back then, there was more freedom when working between writers, designers and programmers to create webpages. Now there are corporate platforms with rigid designs and premade programming. It’s not always a good thing when those elements become too settled.”

As he shares examples of digital literature, Tabbi hopes that community members will come to appreciate that these pieces are carefully crafted additions to a long history of literature that doesn’t conform to the traditional print medium.

“I want people to understand that literature is not limited to the printed word,” Tabbi said. “There’s this idea that literature truly began with Gutenberg and the printing press, but the truth is that literature has a multi-modal history. It was spoken through storytellers, written on scrolls and performed as plays. These online works are a new way to continue that characteristic.”

ABR is a nonprofit, internationally distributed literary journal published six times a year. It began in 1977, moved to UHV in 2006 and has a circulation of about 8,000. The journal specializes in reviews of works published by small presses.

Authors are available after each reading to sign copies of their books. Each author also meets with students and attends a community reception. The Fall 2019 reading series authors will be announced during the summer.

For more information about the UHV/ABR Reading Series, call the ABR office at 361-570-4101 or go to www.americanbookreview.org.

The University of Houston-Victoria, located in the heart of the Coastal Bend region since 1973, offers courses leading to 70 bachelor’s, master’s and specialist degree programs and concentrations in the schools of Arts & Sciences; Business Administration; and Education, Health Professions & Human Development. UHV provides face-to-face classes at its Victoria campus, as well as a teaching center in Katy, and online classes that students can take from anywhere. UHV supports the American Association of State Colleges and Universities Opportunities for All initiative to increase awareness about state colleges and universities, and the important role they have in providing a high-quality and accessible education to an increasingly diverse student population, as well as contributing to regional and state economic development.