Just as the new movie "The Great Gatsby" had its world premiere, acclaimed author and Pulitzer Prize winner Robert Olen Butler received a related award — this one honoring his entire career of literary excellence.
Butler, the Francis Eppes Professor of English in Florida State University's College of Arts and Sciences, was selected to receive the F. Scott Fitzgerald Award for Outstanding Achievement in American Literature. The award was formally announced by the F. Scott Fitzgerald Literary Conference Inc., which hosts the F. Scott Fitzgerald Literary Festival each year at Montgomery College in Rockville, Md. Fitzgerald, author of the literary classic "The Great Gatsby," and his wife, Zelda, are buried in Rockville.
"I am, of course, delighted for my life's work to be honored by the F. Scott Fitzgerald Award," Butler said. "Since 10 of my 20 books have been written in the 13 years I've been at FSU, I feel that the award was in large part due to the creatively nurturing atmosphere of this splendid university."
Butler is the 17th recipient of the award, following other literary titans such as Norman Mailer, John Updike, William Styron, Joyce Carol Oates, Edward Albee, Elmore Leonard and E.L. Doctorow. He will officially receive the award in October when he gives a lecture and reading at the F. Scott Fitzgerald Literary Festival, also held in Rockville.
"Florida State's creative writing program has grown exponentially in both quantity and quality since he started teaching here," said Butler's colleague David Kirby, FSU's Robert O. Lawton Distinguished Professor of English and a highly accomplished poet and author in his own right. "In our galaxy, Robert Olen Butler is like a pulsar, throwing off bursts of blindingly brilliant fiction with seeming ease. Beyond that, he's just a terrific colleague, a role model to students and faculty alike in his good nature, his generosity, and his willingness to help others. Both in his writing and his person, Bob leads others to that elusive thing we all want: a place in the world."
Butler's most well-known literary success came in 1993, when his short-story collection "A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain" (Holt, 1992) won him America's highest writing honor, 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, saying it was "remarkable not for its flaws, but for how beautifully it achieves its daring project of making the Vietnamese real."
Numerous literary and academic honors followed the Pulitzer. A recipient of both a Guggenheim Fellowship in fiction and a National Endowment for the Arts grant, Butler also won the Richard and Hinda Rosenthal Foundation Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters and was a finalist for the PEN/Faulkner Award. He has twice won a National Magazine Award in Fiction and has received two Pushcart Prizes.
Butler's stories have appeared widely in such publications as The New Yorker, Esquire, Harper's, The Atlantic Monthly, GQ, Zoetrope, The Paris Review, Granta, The Hudson Review, The Virginia Quarterly Review, Ploughshares and The Sewanee Review. They also have been chosen for inclusion in four annual editions of "The Best American Short Stories," eight annual editions of "New Stories from the South" and numerous college literature textbooks.
"Bob Butler indeed has a long history of contributions to American letters, not the least of which is that he was an early mentor of Adam Johnson, an FSU Ph.D. in 2001 who is the most recent winner of the Pulitzer Prize in fiction," said Eric Walker, chairman of the Department of English.
Butler, who holds the Michael Shaara Chair in Creative Writing at Florida State, is currently working on his 11th book since joining the FSU faculty in 2000.
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