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Robert Olen Butler Jr. (born January 20, 1945) is an American fiction writer. His short-story collection, A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain, was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1993.

Early life

Butler was born in Granite Citymarker, Illinoismarker, to Robert Olen Butler, Sr., an actor and theater professor who became the chairman of the theatre department of Saint Louis Universitymarker, and his wife, the former Lucille Frances Hall, an executive secretary.

Butler attended Northwestern Universitymarker as a theater major (B.S., 1967) and switched to playwriting at the University of Iowamarker (M.A., 1969).

Butler served in Vietnammarker from 1969 to 1971, first as a counter-intelligence special agent for the Army and later as a translator. He rose to the rank of sergeant in the Army Military Intelligence Corps. His experiences during that period have informed his writings, and as a result, in 1987 Butler received the Tu Do Chinh Kien Award from the Vietnam Veterans of America for outstanding contributions to American culture by a veteran. "My greatest pleasure in life was at 2 in the morning to wander out into the steamy back alleys of Saigonmarker, where nobody ever seemed to sleep, and just walk the alleys and crouch in the doorways with the people," Butler told The New York Times in 1993. "The Vietnamese were the warmest, most open and welcoming people I've ever met, and they just invited me into their homes and into their culture and into their lives."

After working as a steel mill laborer, a taxi driver, and a substitute teacher in high schools in the years following his tour of duty in Vietnam, Butler joined Fairchild Publications, where he worked on the staffs of trade publications such as Electronic News. From 1975 until 1985, he was the editor-in-chief of Fairchild's Energy User News (now Energy & Power Management).

Literary career

"Every word of my first four published novels was written on a legal pad, by hand, on my lap, on the Long Island Railroad as I commuted back and forth from Sea Cliffmarker to Manhattanmarker," Butler has said about his early writing while a Fairchild employee.

The author's first novel was The Alleys of Eden, which was published in 1981 by Horizon Press after being rejected by 21 publishers. Its protagonist is an American deserter who decides to stay in Vietnam, as Butler's one-time writing professor Anatole Broyard wrote in The New York Times, "because, with all its troubles, Vietnam seems to him to retain more of its integrity, its sense of self, than the America he has left behind."Prior to the publication of The Alleys of Eden, Butler had written, by his estimation, "five ghastly novels, about forty dreadful short stories, and twelve truly awful full-length plays, all of which have never seen the light of day and never will."

His second novel was Sun Dogs (Horizon, 1983), which The New York Times described as having "some powerful moments, some engrossing scenes and deft touches, but there is little momentum, no satisfying pattern, none of the magic of synergy."

Butler's stories have appeared in such publications as The New Yorker, Esquire, Harper's, The Atlantic Monthly, GQ, and Zoetrope: All-Story. He has had stories included in editions of The Best American Short Stories, New Stories From the South, and numerous college literature textbooks. Butler has also written screenplays for film and television, most of them based on other writers' material.

Severance: Stories, his collection of 240-word short stories about the post-beheading thoughts of decapitated individuals (from Nicole Brown Simpson to Louis XVI to the author himself) was the basis of Severance, a one-act play by David Jette. It was produced in 2007 at McCadden Place Theatre in Los Angelesmarker. Butler has described Severance as his best and most ambitious book.

Butler's short–story collections Tabloid Dreams (1996) and Had a Good Time (2004) take their inspiration from popular culture. The stories in Tabloid Dreams were spun from the titles of outlandish articles in supermarket tabloids. Had a Good Time, which the San Francisco Chronicle called a "mealy-mouthed volume ... [d]impled by clichés and drippy bits of hokum Americana", builds its narratives around the images on vintage American picture postcards, which Butler has collected for more than a decade. One example is the tale "Mother in the Trenches", first published in Harper's in February 2003. It traces the journey of Mrs. Jack Gaines, a prosperous matron, from her comfortable home to the battlefields of World War I France, in order to convince her soldier son to come home; the story's basis is a period postcard that depicts a stout, middle-aged woman wearing dark clothes and a helmet.

In 2001, during a live broadcast over the Internet, Butler wrote a short story over 17 sessions, each lasting two hours. As the author explained of the broadcasts, "What we're trying to do here is reproduce for you what is normally hidden behind the veil of private life."

In 2007, Butler and the French writer Camille Laurens collaborated on a short detective story published in As You Were Saying (Dalkey Archive), a collection of stories by French-American writing teams. Butler and Laurens's effort was described as "vaguely noirish, hip and blandly cosmopolitan" by Jonathan Derbyshire in Prospect Magazine.

Butler taught creative writing at McNeese State Universitymarker in Lake Charles, Louisianamarker, from 1985 to 2000. He then joined the faculty of Florida State Universitymarker as a Francis Eppes Distinguished Professor, holding the Michael Shaara Chair in Creative Writing.

Awards and honors

Butler is a recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship in fiction and a National Endowment for the Arts grant, and was a finalist for the PEN/Faulkner Award. In 2001 he won a National Magazine Award for "Fair Warning", a short story that was published in the journal Zoetrope: All-Story, and four years later, he won another National Magazine Award for "The One in White", a short story published in The Atlantic Monthly.

In 1993, his first story collection, A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain, won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. The New York Times praised the book's "startling, dreamlike"stories about the lives of Vietnamese immigrants living in Louisiana, and said it was "remarkable not for its flaws, but for how beautifully it achieves its daring project of making the Vietnamese real."The Pulitzer committee said that the stories "raise the literature of the Vietnam conflict to an original and highly personal new level."

Butler also is the judge of the annual Robert Olen Butler Prize, a short-fiction award founded and sponsored by Del Sol Press.


On August 10, 1968 Butler married Carol Supplee. They divorced in January 1972.Who's Who In America 2006

On July 1, 1972 Butler married poet Marylin Geller (now known professionally as Marylin Krepf).They had one child, Joshua Robert Butler (born 1974), and divorced July 1987.

On July 21, 1987 Butler married Maureen Donlan. They divorced in March 1995.

On 23 April 1995, at Tavern on the Greenmarker restaurant in New York Citymarker, Butler married the novelist and playwright Elizabeth Dewberry (born 1963). The couple ended their marriage in July 2007 (The Washington Post reported that they were officially divorced on 19 July), according to an email Butler sent to his graduate students and fellow professors at Florida State University regarding Dewberry's decision to leave him for communications mogul Ted Turner. A controversy arose over the highly personal revelations contained within Butler's email, which was leaked by one of its recipients and subsequently reported on by major international media outlets, such as The Washington Post, The New York Times, and National Public Radio.



  • The Alleys of Eden (1981)
  • Sun Dogs (1982)
  • Countrymen of Bones (1983)
  • On Distant Ground (1985)
  • Wabash (1987)
  • The Deuce (1989)
  • They Whisper (1994)
  • The Deep Green Sea (1997)
  • Mr. Spaceman (2000)
  • Fair Warning (2002)
  • Hell (September 2009)

Short story collections


Other publications

  • Introduction to Vietnam War Literature: A Catalogue (1990)
  • The Robert Olen Butler Prize Stories 2004 (2005)
  • The Robert Olen Butler Prize Stories 2005 (2006)
  • The Robert Olen Butler Prize Stories 2007 (2007)
  • The Robert Olen Butler Prize Stories 2008 (2008)


  1. Peter Applebome, "An Author Catapulted Into the Foreground", The New York Times, 20 April 1993
  2. It is now a publication of BNP Media.
  3. Freeman, John.
  4. Butler.

External links



Interviews of Butler


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