Best known as a fiction writer, Jack Armand Butler Jr. is also a poet, essayist, and food columnist. He was born in the small Mississippi Delta town of Alligator on 8 May 1944 to Jack Butler, a Southern Baptist minister, and Dorothy Niland Butler, a homemaker.
The writer’s early childhood was spent in New Orleans, where his father attended New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. Butler attended high school in Clinton, lettering in track and becoming interested in writing, before enrolling at Central Missouri State College (now the University of Central Missouri). He received bachelor’s degrees in mathematics and English in 1966 but spent 1964 at Mississippi College, where he ran on the cross country and track teams, acted in plays, and wrote poetry and fiction for the college literary magazine, Arrowhead. As a young child, Butler was, in his words, a “preacher boy,” speaking frequently from the pulpit, an experience that strongly influenced his life, although he moved away from that vocation after a brief experience as a pastor of a small church in Sedalia, Missouri, in 1966.
In 1968 Butler entered the creative writing program at the University of Arkansas. Over the next decade he held a series of jobs, including writer in residence for the Joint Educational Consortium in Arkadelphia, Arkansas, and instructor of English at the University of Arkansas. He completed his master of fine arts degree in 1979 and worked in public relations and as an actuarial analyst before returning to the academic world as an assistant dean at Hendrix College in Conway, Arkansas. In 1993 he moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico, and served as associate professor of creative writing and the codirector of the creative writing program at the College of Santa Fe. He retired in 2004.
Butler’s poetry has been published in numerous journals and magazines, including Atlantic Monthly, New Yorker, Poetry, Southern Poetry Review, and Mississippi Review, and his work has been included in several anthologies. Butler has published two collections of poems, West of Hollywood: Poems from a Hermitage (1981) and The Kid Who Wanted to Be a Spaceman (1982). He acknowledges the influence of Robert Frost and W. B. Yeats and, unlike most contemporary poets, primarily writes formal poetry rather than free verse.
Butler has always written fiction as well. He won first prize for fiction from the Black Warrior Review in 1978 for the story “Without Any Ears” and in 1981 for “A Country Girl.” He has published a collection of stories, Hawk Gumbo and Other Stories (1982), and a novel, Jujitsu for Christ (1986), that was widely praised and republished in 1988 as part of the Penguin Contemporary Fiction series. Set primarily in and around Jackson in the 1960s, the novel uses the integration of the University of Mississippi and related civil rights events to develop an antiracist satire. Nightshade (1989), a science fiction novel, reflects Butler’s long-held interest in that genre. Another novel, Living in Little Rock with Miss Little Rock (1993), was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize and for the PEN/Faulkner award.
Butler’s next work, Jack’s Skillet: Plain Talk and Some Recipes from a Guy in the Kitchen (1997), followed a series of successful food columns and revealed anew the wide diversity of his interests and talents. In 1998 he returned to the science fiction genre with the publication of Dreamer. Most recently, he has published Practicing Zen without a License (2011) and Broken Hallelujah: New and Selected Poems (2013).
Butler has two daughters, Lynnika and Sarah, and now lives in Eureka, California, where he writes and paints.
- “Jack Butler” Contemporary Authors, new rev. ser., vol. 53 (1997)
- Jack Butler website, authorjackbutler.wordpress.com
- Ashby Bland Crowder, Mississippi Quarterly (Winter 1992)