Developing an Identity for the Field of Electronic Literature
Reflections on the Electronic Literature Organization Archives

The Electronic Literature Organization (ELO) was founded as a literary nonprofit organization in 1999 after the Technology Platforms for 21st Century Literature conference at Brown University. Along with Jeff Ballowe and Robert Coover, I was a co-founder of the ELO, and served as its first Executive Director from 1999-2001, and have served on its board of directors in the years since then. Today it is one of the most active organizations in the field of electronic literature, central to the practice of e-lit in the United States and its establishment as an academic discipline. This essay briefly outlines the early history of the organization, the ways that the mission, profile, and the focus of the organization evolved and changed in its first decade, and offers some tentative insights into the ways that an institutionally structured community can facilitate network-mediated art practice.

The discussion is based on archival materials, including notes taken prior to the incorporation of the Organization. By revisiting these materials and recounting the process by which the organization took shape, I will describe aspects of the iterative and deliberative process through which a collective institutional identity took shape. Although certain aspects of the organizational structure have remained stable since its formation, its mission, scope, programs, and constituency have changed and evolved a great deal during the period. Taking into account, for instance, that the organization was initiated during the final stages of the 1999 dot com boom primarily as an artist-based organization and has evolved ultimately into a professional academic organization with successful programs including an ongoing series of conferences and publications, it is useful to consider the organization as an evolving community. Even the shifts that took place between the time that the organization was initially conceived and its incorporation are instructive for understanding how a nascent creative community-based organization can change and evolve during its gestation.

The decisions about composition, mission, and programs of the Electronic Literature Organization have been non-trivial in their effects, contributing in a large degree to the conception of electronic literature and the discourse models of the field more generally. The widening breadth of the genres of electronic literature, the professionalization of its academic discourse, and to some degree the credentialing of creative practice have been facilitated by programs of ELO.

The Origin of the ELO 1999-2000
The First Drafts of the Electronic Literature Organization
Successes and Failures 1999-2001
2002-2005: Transitioning to Academe at UCLA
2006-2010: Setting Clear Priorities and Developing Infrastructure for the Field
2011 and Beyond: Continuity, Challenges, and Opportunities

Works of Electronic Literature Referenced
Critical Writing, Reports, and Collections Referenced
Archival Materials Attached (in order mentioned)