Robert Olen Butler attended Northwestern University as a theater major (BS, 1967) and switched to playwriting at the University of Iowa (MA, 1969). Butler served in Vietnam from 1969 to 1971. After working as a steel mill laborer, a taxi driver, and a substitute teacher in high schools in the years following his tour of duty in Vietnam, Butler joined Fairchild Publications, where he worked on the staffs of trade publications such as Electronic News. From 1975 until 1985, he was the editor-in-chief of Fairchild’s Energy User News (now Energy & Power Management).
Butler is the author of 12 novels and six short story collections, including A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain, which won the 1993 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. Butler began writing novels on the Long Island Railroad. The author’s first novel was The Alleys of Eden, which was published in 1981 by Horizon Press after being rejected by 21 publishers.
Butler has always been a controversial artist, seemingly reinventing himself with each new novel or short story collection. His shape-shifting often polarizes reviewers. Butler’s stories have appeared in such publications as The New Yorker, Esquire, Harper’s, The Atlantic Monthly, GQ, and Zoetrope: All-Story. He has had stories included in a combined twelve editions of The Best American Short Stories, New Stories From the South, and numerous college literature textbooks. Butler has also written screenplays for film and television, most of them based on other writers’ material.
Butler taught creative writing at McNeese State University in Lake Charles, Louisiana, from 1985 to 2000. He then joined the faculty of Florida State University as a Francis Eppes Distinguished Professor, holding the Michael Shaara Chair in Creative Writing, where he currently teaches.