Illinois State Library

Illinois Center for the Book

Individual Author Record

General Information

Name:  Robert Olen Butler  

Pen Name: None

Genre: Fiction Non-Fiction

Audience: Adult;

Born: 1945 in Granite City, Illinois

-- Website --
-- Robert Olen Butler on WorldCat --

Illinois Connection

Butler was born and grew up in Granite City. He attended Northwestern University in Evanston and lived in Illinois until 1967.

Biographical and Professional Information

Robert Olen Butler is an American fiction writer. He served in Vietnam from 1969 to 1971. He rose to the rank of sergeant in the Army Military Intelligence Corps. His experiences during that period have affected his writings, and as a result, in 1987 Butler received the Tu Do Chinh Kien Award from the Vietnam Veterans of America for outstanding contributions to American culture by a veteran.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. 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. His short-story collection, ''A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain'' was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1993.

Published Works

  • Alleys of Eden, 1981
  • Sun Dogs, 1982
  • Countrymen of Bones, 1983
  • On Distant Ground, 1985
  • Wabash, 1987
  • The Deuce, 1989
  • A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain, 1992
  • They Whisper, 1994
  • Tabloid Dreams, 1996
  • Deep Green Sea, St. Martin`s Press, 1997
  • Mr. Spaceman, Grove Press, 2000
  • Fair Warning, 2002
  • Had a Good Time: Stories from American Postcards, 2004
  • From Where You Dream: The Process of Writing Fiction, 2005
  • Severance, Chronicle Books, 2006
  • Intercourse: Stories, Chronicle Books, 2008
  • Hell: A Novel, Grove Press, 2010
  • A Small Hotel, Grove Press, 2011
  • The Hot Country, Mysterious Press, 2013
  • The Star of Istanbul, Mysterious Press, 2014
  • The Empire of Night, Mysterious Press, 2014
  • Perfume River, Atlantic Monthly Press, 2016

Selected Titles At Your Library

Sun dogs /
ISBN: 0818006366. OCLC Number:

Horizon Press,. New York :. ©1982.

Countrymen of bones /
ISBN: 0818006390. OCLC Number:

Horizon Press,. New York :. ©1983.

On distant ground :
ISBN: 0394540409. OCLC Number:

. .

Wabash :
ISBN: 039455597X. OCLC Number:

Knopf :. New York :. 1987.

The deuce :
ISBN: 067167093X. OCLC Number:

Simon and Schuster,. New York :. ©1989.

A good scent from a strange mountain :
ISBN: 0802137989. OCLC Number:

H. Holt,. New York :. 1992.

The Vietnam War continues to play itself out in fiction, autobiography, and history books, but no American author has captured the experiences of the Vietnamese themselves--and caught their voices--more tellingly than Robert Olen Butler, who won the Pulitzer Prize in 1993 for A Good Scent From a Strange Mountain. The 15 stories collected here, all written in the first person, blend Vietnamese folklore, the terrible, lingering memories of war, American pop culture and family drama.

They whisper :
ISBN: 0805019855. OCLC Number:

H. Holt,. New York :. 1994.

This may be the sexiest book you've ever read. It is also, at turns, among the funniest and the most harrowing and the most moving and the most lyrically beautiful of books. And it is also a book of uncompromising artistic integrity. They Whisper is an astonishingly rare thing in this sex-conscious age: a serious-work of literary art that directly and unflinchingly addresses the subject of modern heterosexuality.

Tabloid dreams :
ISBN: 0805055894. OCLC Number:

H. Holt & Co.,. New York :. 1996.

Twelve off-beat stories. In JFK Secretly Attends Jackie's Auction, President Kennedy, who survived the assassination and is a prisoner of the CIA, is allowed to attend an auction of his wife's property, while in Jealous Husband Returns in Form of Parrot, a husband reincarnated as a parrot tries to make amends to his wife who now owns him.

Mr. Spaceman :
ISBN: 0802137822. OCLC Number:

Grove Press,. New York :. 2000.

A spaceman orbits the Earth, gently abducting people to study humanity, then erasing the event from their memories. Problems arise when he falls in love with a beautician from Alabama.

Fair warning :
ISBN: 0871138336. OCLC Number:

. .

"At age forty, Amy is the company's star employee, capable of selling a Renoir painting of a pudgy nude for twice its value. Hers are the charms and talents of a sophisticated woman; intelligence, ambition, wit, and endless charisma."--Jacket.

Had a good time :
ISBN: 0802142044. OCLC Number:

Grove Press,. New York :. ©2004.

A collection of short fiction inspired by postcards from a bygone era and their messages offers fifteen pieces, including "Carl and I," "The Ironworkers' Hayride," and "The One in White."

From where you dream :
ISBN: 0802117953. OCLC Number:

Grove Press,. New York :. ©2005.

"Janet Burroway, author of Writing Fiction, the classic text on creative writing ... introduces her edited transcripts of Butler's thought-provoking lectures. From Where You Dream reimagines the process of writing as emotional rather than intellectual and tells writers how to achieve the dreamspace necessary for composing honest, inspired fiction. Proposing fiction as the exploration of the human condition with yearning as its compass, Butler reinterprets the traditional tools of the craft using the dynamics of desire."--Publisher's website.

Severance :
ISBN: 0811856143. OCLC Number:

Chronicle Books,. San Francisco :. ©2006.

Pulitzer-winning Butler presents 62 stories, each exactly 240 words long, capturing the flow of thoughts and feelings that go through a person's mind after their head has been severed. The characters are both real and imagined, including Medusa and Anne Boleyn.

Intercourse :
ISBN: 0811863573. OCLC Number:

. .

A collection of short fiction by the Pulitzer Prize-winning author offers a revealing look at what goes through a person's mind during sex as he captures the innermost thoughts of such couples as Bonnie and Clyde, Adam and Eve, and Richard Milhous Nixon and Pat Nixon.

Hell /
ISBN: 0802145094. OCLC Number:

Grove Press,. New York :. ©2009.

Hatcher McCord is an evening newscaster who has found himself in Hell and is struggling to explain his bad fortune. He's far from the only one to suffer this fate--in fact, he's surrounded by an outrageous cast of characters, including William Shakespeare, Humphrey Bogart, Richard M. Nixon, Jezebel, Judas Iscariot, Pope Boniface VIII, J. Edgar Hoover, and a panoply of present-day figures who will soon be in Hell. The question may be not who is in Hell but who isn't. Butler's Hell isn't as much a boiling lake of fire--although there is that--as it is a Sisyphean trial tailored to each inhabitant. One day, Hatcher McCord meets Dante's Beatrice, who believes there is a way out of Hell. Soon thereafter, by a twist of diabolical fate and an interviewer's savvy, he learns a deep, dark secret of the underworld. From there Butler is off on a madcap romp about good, evil, free will, and the possibility of escape.--From publisher's description.

A small hotel /
ISBN: 0802119875. OCLC Number:

Grove Press,. New York :. ©2011.

A tale set in reverse chronicles the failing marriage of New Orleans residents Michael and Kelly Hayes, who, on the day their divorce becomes final, revisit their shared history to evaluate the insecurities and inabilities that have driven them apart.

The hot country /
ISBN: 0802121543. OCLC Number:

. .

Christopher Marlowe ("Kit") Cobb, an early 20th-century American war correspondent reporting on Mexico's civil war, witnesses the attempted assassination of a priest and the arrival of strange ships bearing German officials.

The star of Istanbul :
ISBN: 0802121578. OCLC Number:

Mysterious Press,. New York :. ©2013.

Christopher Marlowe ("Kit") Cobb, an American war correspondent reporting on World War I, has been tasked to follow a man named Brauer, a German intellectual and possible covert SS agent, into perilous waters aboard the ship Lusitania, as the man is believed to hold information vital to the war effort. Aboard the Lusitania on its fateful voyage, Cobb becomes smitten with famed actress Selene Bourgani, who for some reason appears to be working with German Intelligence.

The empire of night /
ISBN: 0802123236. OCLC Number:

. .

"In the thrilling third installment of the Christopher Marlowe Cobb series, Kit discovers a secret plan to transform Zeppelins into dangerous killing machines--and to turn the tide of war in Germany's favor"--

Perfume river :
ISBN: 0802125751. OCLC Number:

. .

Robert Quinlan is a seventy-year-old historian teaching at Florida State University, where his wife Darla is also tenured. Their marriage, forged in the fervor of anti-Vietnam War protests, now bears the fractures of time, both personal and historical, with the couple trapped in an existence of morning coffee and solitary jogging and separate offices. For Robert and Darla, the cracks remain under the surface, whereas the divisions in Robert's own family are more apparent: he has almost no relationship with his brother Jimmy, who became estranged from the family as the Vietnam War intensified. Robert and Jimmy's father, a veteran of WWII, is coming to the end of his life, and aftershocks of war ripple across their lives once again when Jimmy refuses to appear at his father's bedside. And an unstable homeless man whom Robert at first takes to be a fellow Vietnam veteran turns out to have a deep impact not just on Robert, but on his entire family.


A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain

  • Southern Review/LSU Prize for Short Fiction for the best first collection of short fiction by an American writer, 1992
  • Richard and Hinda Rosenthal Foundation Award, American Academy of Arts and Letters, 1993
  • Notable Book, American Library Association, 1993
  • Pulitzer Prize for fiction, 1993
  • Perfume River

  • Longlisted, Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction, 2017

    Other Awards

    Speaking Engagements

    Speaking Engagement Availability (No)