The Unknown: The Green Line.

William’s Diary

Brown University

April 1999

I rented a car to drive to Providence. I thought that a couple of sleepless days spent grinding my soul against the sandpaper of the open highway would set the proper psychic ambiance for the Unknown’s stay at Brown University. Renting a car also made it possible to fill the trunk with all the good booze Dirk had generously obtained. I would have written a blues song or something about the rental car but I was busy driving fiendishly, trying to finish the drive in 24 hours so that I might only have to pay for one day of rental. I wrote the title of a song in a cheap hotel room near Columbus where I passed out fully clothed in a cold double bed for three hours.

My first morning at the Inn at Brown, I was already feeling as though I had been teaching there for decades...

Here are the sketches I made of the other hypertext artists at the performance.

I was new to the movement, and did not discover until later that Michael Joyce (no relation) was a towering modernist juggernaut, having written Afternoon: A Story, the Iliad of hypertext novels.

Here’s Deena Larsen reading from Ferris Wheel. She’s incredible. She writes, like, a hypertext a week.

In an interview prior to the conference, Coover said that this hypertext performance would be “very high-flying, very circusy.”

It’s confusing when a writer a generation older than you calls your writing a throwback to the golden age of a writers’ movement that happened after you were born.

I guess it means that the movement is aging faster than its writers.

Now, it’s not in any way a reflection upon the lovable Bill Bly that I had to pee right then.

It’s more a reflection on the swell time we had at the Brown Graduate Center bar before the performance. Dirk bought Marc Canter a Jameson’s, because Marc Canter was on a starch-free diet and couldn’t have beer. It’s all part of the special magic of the conference that Dirk was buying expensive liquor for a guy who probably could have paid off Dirk’s student loans no prob.

Let’s face it: I was jealous. Jealous of all those writers who had managed to secure a reputation for themselves in the small, academic world of electronic literature.

My jealousy made me demanding of them. I wanted them to speak directly and with great clarity, as befits the founders of a great literature.

But great literature is often not about clarity.



Bitter even...


But there were a few moments of bold, striking honesty.

Cathy Marshal gave my favorite presentation.




Scott got our URL in the New York Times.



Here is a glimpse at what the Unknown were whispering to each other in the back row.
Dirk’s in purple.

Mark Bernstein is a wonderful man who has helped hypertext writers become consolidated, find an audience, and even make a little cake.

This is a very poor sketch of Michael Miller. Sorry Mike.

I had a great time cracking jokes with him about Word I for DOS, explaining my theory that outdated software was actually classy, vintage software, like having a really cool old car or lounge music on vinyl. He didn’t believe me. He put his hand on my arm and said:

“William: old software will never be hip.”

There was some discussion of love during the technologists’ presentations the second day.

We were well-received.

Spoiled, even.

But the life was taking its toll.

And we paid that toll happily.


And wrote about it the whole time.

We love you, Brown!

On to New Hampshire...

and Vermont...



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