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 Butler on: The genesis of Inside Creative Writing project   (Length 4:27)

TALLAHASSEE, Fla.-Consider what it would have been like if English students could have watched live as William Shakespeare composed "Romeo and Juliet" on the Internet.

Enchanted by the unique real-time global intimacy that the computer age provides, Pulitzer-Prize-winning author Robert Olen Butler is about to premiere worldwide something that has never been done before.

Beginning Oct. 30, viewers tuning in on the Internet or on television will be invited "Inside Creative Writing," to peer over a master's shoulder, keystroke for keystroke, as he creates an original story.

"My project, under the auspices of Florida State University, involves the sharing of a fully elaborated, moment-to-moment act of personal intimacy formerly found only behind the veil of private life, the act of creating a piece of literary fiction," Butler said.

The Francis Eppes Professor holding the Michael Shaara Chair in Creative Writing at FSU, Butler has published 11 books since 1981, including the short fiction volume Good Scent From A Strange Mountain, which won the 1993 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. His short story "Fair Warning" won a 2001 National Magazine Award in Fiction and will be the basis for his new novel of the same name to be published by Atlantic Monthly Press in February 2002.

For his "Inside Creative Writing" project, he will begin with a simple concept for a story and, with no other preparation, will start writing at 9 p.m. (EST) for about 19 days, Sunday through Friday, allowing millions of students and would-be writers a golden opportunity to learn from every creative decision as it is happening. If he comments as he writes, they will hear it. At the close of each episode, he will answer questions e-mailed to him during the broadcast.

Internet users can access the program by going to www.fsu.edu on their browsers and clicking on the "Inside Creative Writing" icon. DishNetwork satellite television also will carry the program, which is being offered through Florida's Panhandle Area Education Consortium.

"The technology of the Internet is still relatively primitive, but the essentials are there to suggest the imminence of a whole new art form, a whole new way of articulating and comprehending the world," he said. "That art form will have its own unique characteristics."

“It isn't yet clear exactly what those are, and that's what makes it so exciting, he said. But the most striking quality seems to him to be "that for the first time, the intimate flow of an individual human existence - in all its private particularity - is accessible to other individuals all over the planet."

In this case, that means using computer-age technology to create art from a form of communication popular in the first two decades of the last century - old picture postcards.

At the last minute, Butler will pluck one of the postcards from his collection of hundreds and build a first-person story that picks up the voice of the written message he finds on the back.

"I won't have the chance, even unconsciously, to pre-plan the story," he said. "I want the whole process to be visible in real time on the Internet."

It's a brave move for an author who already enjoys a huge following around the world. His stories have appeared widely in such publications as The New Yorker, Esquire, The Paris Review, Harper's, GQ, Zoetrope, and more. They have been chosen for inclusion in four annual editions of The Best American Short Stories, seven annual editions of New Stories from the South, and numerous college literature textbooks. His works have been translated into a dozen languages.

A recipient of both a Guggenheim Fellowship in fiction and a National Endowment for the Arts grant, he also won the Richard and Hinda Rosenthal Foundation Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and has written several feature-length screenplays. He is married to a writer, the novelist and playwright Elizabeth Dewberry.

At the core of it all is a love of teaching, the heart of this project.

"I tell my writing students that works of art do not come from the mind, they come from the place where you dream," he said. "I deeply believe that. And so I welcome you to my dreams."

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