Electronic Literature@The MLA


It is with great pleasure that Kathi and I welcome you to the "Electronic Literature @ The MLA.” This site presents the exhibits we have curated at the Modern Language Association annual convention for the last two years and provides a gateway to the archives we have developed for those events.

The two exhibits we have curated––”Electronic Literature” at the MLA 2012 in Seattle, WA and “Avenues of Access” at the MLA 2013 in Boston, MA were planned with very different purposes in mind.  “Electronic Literature,” which included Lori Emerson as co-curator, was the first exhibit of electronic literature ever mounted at the convention.  Because it would be the first, we envisioned our task as providing a general introduction to this literary art form and, so, selected works from a broad cross-section of born digital literary writing, both historic and current.  “Electronic Literature” exhibited over 160 works on 10 computer stations, organized on gallery pedestals.  Visitors to the exhibit could drop in between sessions to taste a wide variety of work over the course of the three days of the exhibit.  Undergraduate docents were available to guide visitors through the exhibit and provide assistance with the technology and works.  We also made a robust archival site that could be used following the exhibit by visitors for research and teaching. We also hosted an evening of performances by the authors featured in the show. The result was as we had hoped: Over 500 visitors to the exhibit during the three days, close to 100 at the evening readings and performances, and over 2000 to our archives.

For “Avenues of Access,” Kathi and I took a far different strategy. We offered only 30 works on five computer stations, organized on large round tables with chairs.  This approach made it possible for visitors to the exhibit to sit and study the works in depth––and in the course of three days––explore every work.  The six undergraduate docents selected to join us had gone through rigorous training during the fall semester in a course taught by Grigar on the topic of curating and had, themselves, mounted a professional exhibit that included works of electronic literature.  Two of these students had also been part of the MLA 2012 exhibit and, so, had knowledge of the audience and its expectations for scholarship.  Kathi and I prepared an archival site and hosted, once again, an evening of performances.  The result was that visitors stayed longer at the exhibit and engaged more deeply with the work. Over 2000 visitors have come to the archival site within a two-month period, far surpassing the visits from the previous year, and over 150 people attended the evening performances. An unexpected (and very pleasant) outcome of the MLA 2013 exhibit was that because it was the second one, visitors actually sought it out, expecting to find it at the convention.  The importance of this institutionalization of electronic literature, an emergent form that appeals to the next generation of readers and, perhaps, DH scholars, within the MLA, cannot be overstated.

Finally, it is important to end by saying that Kathi and I see our function as curators to be "authorial" and our work as art.  We carefully select individual works in a way that makes sense for the overall work—in our case, our exhibit. We arrange the works so that each is displayed to its advantage, and that there is flow, interaction, and participation between visitors and the works and among the visitors in the physical space. And of course, as the Latin root of the word "curator" (curare) suggests, we care for the work, seeking to connect and explain it to readers by being present at the exhibit to answer questions and provide insights and by leaving behind this archival website to preserve its memory as an organized whole, make it easily available, and promote an ongoing discussion of it.


Dene Grigar, PhD

Associate Professor & Director

The Creative Media & Digital Culture Program

Washington State University Vancouver



Kathi Inman Berens, PhD

MLA Exhibits


Boston, MA

2012 (with Lori Emerson)

Seattle, WA


Curatorial Work at the MLA Convention

From the left: Kathi Inman Berens & Dene Grigar


2012 Impact Report by Grigar et al, published at Authoring Software

2012 Storify by Inman Berens

2013 Storify by Inman Berens

Reviews of Works at I ♥ E-Poetry by Leonardo Flores, 31 Dec. 2012-9 Jan. 2013

The Docents’ Experience


From MLA 2012 Exhibit