Jack Butler is the son of a Southern Baptist preacher, and grew up mostly in Mississippi, mostly in the Delta (his home town is Alligator). The family moved every time the elder Butler took a new church, so about every three years.
It came as a surprise when, in his fifties, he realized he had lived in Santa Fe, New Mexico, longer than he had lived in any other one place.
He wore glasses and was voted most intellectual in high school, though at the time he would rather have been a football hero and voted most handsome. He took up long-distance running at about the same time he took up poetry, at sixteen, under the combined influences of Roger Bannister (who first broke the four-minute mile) and William Shakespeare.
By the time he got into grad school he had become fit, but now his cohorts didn’t exercise at all (this was before aerobics), and so maybe saw him as jockish though he still saw himself as a non-athletic. Ironic enough.
He had been lost in what he calls “the Baptist funhouse,” even going so far as to become, for a brief time in his early twenties, a Baptist minister, but found himself increasingly drawn to writing, which in his vision required free thought. He loves the arts generally, having done some acting in college, drawing and doing minor sculpture all his life, and painting seriously in his maturity.
He was also, uncharacteristically for artists at the time, deeply interested in science and mathematics. Following his interests, he took a B. A. in English and a B. S. in Mathematics from Central Missouri State, and, eventually, an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from the University of Arkansas.
He was astonished to hear other poets declare (in one of his first graduate workshops) that a love of science proved you were cold and heartless, and that it was anathema to use science in poetry, or to refer to it with anything but scorn.
He has been married three times, which is probably enough. He and the spouse from his first marriage had two daughters, Lynnika and Sarah, both of whom are now grown women (and happily married).
He has worked as a preacher, a member of a road maintenance crew, a bread man, a seller of fried pies, a poet-in-residence/poet-in-the-schools, a college maintenance man, a finish carpenter, an actuarial analyst for Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Arkansas, the Supervisor for Depreciation for the Arkansas Public Service Commission, the Assistant Dean of Hendrix College, and the Director of Creative Writing at the College of Santa Fe. Now he writes and paints.
Gradually he has become more and more deeply committed to zen, and has been practicing yoga for seven years now.
He’s published nine books to rave reviews in journals such as The New Yorker, Village Voice, Los Angeles Times, The Houston Chronicle, and the Washington Post. His books have appeared in seventeen worldwide editions, including two Penguin trade paperbacks, three British editions, and a Japanese-language publication of Dreamer (his fourth novel). His published books include two volumes of poetry, one of short fiction, a food book, and five novels, including two with Alfred A. Knopf. He has been nominated for the Pulitzer Prize and the Pen/Faulkner, has won numerous awards for both fiction and his poetry, and has been selected for the Pushcart awards.
His poetry and fiction have appeared frequently in The New Yorker, Poetry, Poetry Northwest, Atlantic, Black Warrior Review, The New Orleans Review, Plains Poetry Review, and dozens of other well-regarded journals. His book reviews have appeared in The New York Times Book Review and The Los Angeles Times Book Review (they include reviews of work by Barbara Kingsolver, Larry McMurtry, and Fannie Flagg, among other notables).
(He likes to claim he gave Kingsolver her start, writing a laudatory review of her first novel for The New York Times Book Review.)
Mr. Butler currently lives in Eureka, on the far northern seacoast of California, behind “the Redwood Curtain.” He was drawn here, as was her husband Alex Navas, by his eldest daughter, Lynnika. A Ph.D. candidate in Linguistics at the University of Arizona, she works with the Wiyot Tribe on restoration of the tribal language, whose last native speaker died fifty years ago.
This is his favorite of all the places he has lived, including Santa Fe. He loves the weather (even the rain), the redwoods, the Pacific, and the people, and anticipates spending the rest of his life in Humboldt County.
- Check out Jack’s page in the Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture
- Search the Jack Butler collection at the University of Mississippi library