Authors Robert Olen Butler and Elizabeth Dewberry Present Eckler Lecture
February 20, 2004
After reading thousands of manuscripts by students, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Robert Olen Butler and professor of fiction at Florida State University says that virtually every one of them misses the most important aspect of writing fiction.
"Each character must be searching for something. I would define it as yearning," said Butler. "It is inescapable."
Butler, the author of the 1993 Pulitzer Prize winner "A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain," and his wife, playwright Elizabeth Dewberry, author of "Many Things Have Happened Since He Died," presented a convocation and the Eckler Lecture, Thursday, February 19 at Mount Union College. At the lecture, Butler and Dewberry each read from their work. For the convocation, Dr. Michael Olin-Hitt, associate professor of English at the College, conducted a public interview with both authors.
Dewberry, who is playwright-in-residence at Florida State University, explained that a play is an entirely different form of storytelling, which is why a good book cannot be immediately transformed into a good play. In fact, she stated that perhaps some books simply cannot be adapted to the stage. Dewberry said that the beginnings of this art form can be traced to ancient Greece or through the Christian church with the advent of "passion plays," used to relate Bible stories.
"However you trace the roots of plays, they began as a way to celebrate coming together and getting in touch with the divine," said Dewberry. "Plays still have the capacity to do that and it is something you can only get with a live audience. You can't do that in novels or movies."
Dewberry said that playwriting came rather easy to her, in contrast to Butler, who described himself as a "dreadful playwright."
"You are driven to articulate your vision. It is all about how you see the world, and whatever that view is, there is a medium that fits that vision," said Butler. "I really believe that you don't choose your medium, it chooses you."
Butler and Dewberry first met at a writing conference, but they were already familiar with each other through their work.
"We fell in love by reading each other's book," said Butler, who proposed to Dewberry the day after they first met. "Through our work, we already knew each other in a deep way, so it was not so bizarre to move so quickly.
The Eric A. and Mary W. Eckler Lecture in Literature and Drama was established through an endowment given by Mr. and Mrs. John A. Cummins (Dorothy Nelson '29) in appreciation of the Ecklers' years of service to the community and Mount Union College.