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Jack Armand Butler Jr. is a poet and novelist known for structurally experimental writing, usually dealing with the development of a religious self-awareness transcending orthodox views. His work is often sexually charged and humorous.
Jack Butler was born May 8, 1944, in Alligator, Mississippi, to Jack Butler, a Baptist preacher, and Dorothy Butler, a homemaker. He attended high school in Clinton, Mississippi. He was ordained a Baptist minister in Sedalia, Missouri, in 1965, and pastored the Bethlehem Baptist Church briefly in 1966. He received a BS in math and a BA in English from Central Missouri State College (now Central Missouri State University) in 1966. That year, he married Lynnice McDonald, with whom he had two children, Lynnika and Sarah; they divorced in 1977. He earned an MFA from the University of Arkansas (UA) in Fayetteville (Washington County) in 1979. In 1983, he married Little Rock (Pulaski County) native Jayme Thomas Tull, a purchasing manager, and became stepfather to her two daughters. They divorced in 2004.
Butler has won several awards, including one from the Boatwright Literary Festival in 1971 for his story, “Voices.” He won first prize for fiction from Black Warrior Review in 1978 for “Without Any Ears” and in 1981 for “A Country Girl.”
Butler has written eight books, including three novels, a short story collection, a recipe collection, and two poetry collections, West of Hollywood: Poems from a Hermitage (August House, 1980) and The Kid Who Wanted to be a Spaceman (August House, 1984). His poetry has been published in several anthologies, including Best Poems of 1976, edited by Joyce Carol Oates; Ozark, Ozark, edited by Miller Williams; and Arkansas Voices. His poems have been published in many magazines, including The New Yorker, The Atlantic Monthly, Poetry, Southern Poetry Review, Mississippi Review, and New Orleans Review.
Butler’s first novel, Jujitsu for Christ (August House, 1986), told the racially charged story of a young man who opens a martial arts school in a predominantly black area in Jackson, Mississippi. Nightshade, a science fiction novel, followed in 1989 from Atlantic Monthly Press. His next book, Living in Little Rock with Miss Little Rock (Knopf, 1993), was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. It tells the story of a lawyer, Charles Morrison, whose wife, Lianne, is a former Miss Little Rock. Ostensibly a love story, the novel also captures a portrait of Little Rock and Arkansas. It uses collage, newspaper excerpts, cartoon reprints, and unusual arrangements of dialogue. It features an omniscient narrator who claims to be either the Holy Ghost or perhaps Lianne’s deceased dog to tell the love story that becomes a murder mystery. The novel received national notice for its unconventional style and helped Butler rise from the ranks of regional writer.
In 1997, Algonquin Books published a cookbook, Jack’s Skillet: Plain Talk from a Guy in the Kitchen, and in 1998, Knopf published Dreamer, a novel about dream research and set in Santa Fe, New Mexico. In 2011, he published Practicing Zen without a License.
Butler was a writer in residence for the Joint Educational Consortium in Arkadelphia (Clark County) from 1974 to 1977; an English instructor at UA from 1977 to 1979; a science writer and public relations director for the Cancer Cooperative Group of Northwest Arkansas from 1979 to 1980; an actuarial analyst for Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Arkansas in Little Rock from 1980 to 1983; and a rate analyst at the Arkansas Public Service Commission until 1988. He became an assistant dean at Hendrix College in Conway (Faulkner County) in 1988 but left Hendrix in 1993 to be co-director of the Creative Writing Program and an associate professor of creative writing at the College of Santa Fe in New Mexico. He retired in 2004 for health reasons and moved to Wyandotte, Oklahoma. He now lives in California.
For additional information:
Costello, Brannon. “An Interview with Jack Butler.” Mississippi Quarterly: The Journal of Southern Culture 58 (Fall 2005): 639–664.
Crowder, Ashby Bland. “Jack Butler: Poetry and Life, an Interview.”Mississippi Quarterly: The Journal of Southern Culture 46 (Winter 1992–93): 3–21.
Henderson, Jeff. “Filled with the Spirit: Jack Butler’s Indwelling Narrator.” Publications of the Arkansas Philological Association 20 (Fall 1994): 35–45.
Hughes, Charles. “Jack Butler: A Faith in Words.” Arkansas Libraries 43 (June 1986): 145–150.
C. L. Bledsoe
Last Updated 11/6/2012
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