Professor’s connection helps bring Pulitzer Prize winner to campus


Pulitzer Prize winning author Robert Olen Butler visited Baldwin Wallace University’s campus on Oct. 9 and spoke at both The Mill Reading Series and the Marting Humanities Lecture Series.

According to Denise Kohn, English Department Chair, there were two different types of presentations.

The Mill Reading Series included a reading of Butler’s work by the author himself, a question and answer session, and a reception. The event took place on Oct. 8 at 4:30 p.m. in Marting Hall.

“Every semester the Creative Writing Program brings a poet, a novelist, or playwright to campus to talk about their work. While we had Robert Olen Butler on campus, we wanted him to speak for both of our events,” said Kohn.

This semester’s Marting Humanities Lecture was also a part of the Voices of Inspiration Series, which has featured other notable speakers, including NASA astronaut Dr. Mae Carol Jemison and professional racing legend Danica Patrick.

“It’s a phenomenal opportunity for BW students to learn from one of the most highly regarded living American writers of our time,” said Kohn.

Butler has written short stories, novels, and works of non-fiction.

In addition to winning the Pulitzer Prize in 1993 for his work “A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain,” Butler is a recipient of the F. Scott Fitzgerald Award for Outstanding Achievement in American Literature.

Dr. Michael Garriga, associate professor of English, said he was able to reach out to Butler because of his past work with him.

“He was my dissertation director. My book, “The Book of Duels,” is dedicated to him,” said Garriga.

Butler approaches writing from a unique perspective, said Garriga.

“He has this book of nonfiction that’s about the craft of writing. The book is unique. It approaches writing from the desire of the main character— ‘what is their yearning?’” said Garriga. “He calls his approach to writing something close to method writing, where he wants to become the characters. It’s really refreshing.”

Butler creates “different registers” as a writer, said Kohn.

“He can move quickly on the same page from a sort of Jamesian introspection of somebody’s inner thoughts to humorous dialogue. And he can make these transitions in lightning quick ways,” said Kohn. “So, the reader has an opportunity to experience different emotions and different thought processes very quickly. And he’s able to do this without losing the reader.”

Butler is also a skilled performer, partially due to his background in theatre, said Garriga.

“He’s a performer. I love the idea of one of the things he said in class. ‘If you’re going to do a reading, you’re asking people to leave their loved ones, to leave their house, to turn their TV sets off and come watch you for an hour,’ “said Garriga. “They could read your book at home, so you have to bring something different than just the printed word. You need to perform. It should be better than just the words on the page.”

This semester’s Mill Reading Series paves the way for future Creative Writing Program endeavors into the literary world, said Garriga.

“Butler’s visit will continue to deepen The Mill’s commitment to the literary arts,” said Garriga.