Category > Other Writings

5 March 2014

Helen Tartar

My friend and first editor, Helen Tarter — Editorial Director of Fordham University Press and formerly editor at Stanford University Press — died in a car accident on March 4th, 2014. (Fordham UP announcement) Helen was a formative influence on my writing and career who took a gamble on my sprawling first book Wordsworth: The Sense of History (Stanford UP, 1989) and nurtured it into print. I will always remember her support, the discipline she inspired rather than required, and the fluid, sparkling stream of her conversation (carried out in a voice so soft that I hear it in my mind whenever I reread Wordsworth’s “Nutting” and come to the line on “the murmur, and the murmuring sound”).

The following is excerpted from the beginning of the Acknowledgments in my second book (my first book “after Helen”):

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Citation: Alan Liu (lead author), Rama Hoetzlein, Rita Raley, Ivana Anjelkovic, Salman Bakht, Joshua Dickinson, Michael Hetrick, Andrew Kalaidjian, Eric Nebeker, Dana Solomon, and Lindsay Thomas. “Friending the Humanities Knowledge Base: Exploring Bibliography as Social Network in RoSE.” White Paper for the NEH Office of Digital Humanities: Rose Digital Humanities Start-up Grant (Level 2) HD-51433-11 (9/1/2011 TO 9/30/2012).

Citation: Alan Liu and William G. Thomas III, “Humanities in the Digital Age.” Inside Higher Ed — Views, 1 October 2012.


Good strategy requires picking some point on the line to apply leverage. The leverage point in the policies now shaping the future university is the digital, and we feel that it is crucial that the humanities try for well-conceived, humanities-friendly models of digital work that are institutionally cohesive enough to influence policy.

Citation: “A New Metaphor for Reading.” Invited contribution to “Room for Debate” forum on “Does the Brain Like E-Books?” New York Times, 14 October 2009.


Initially, any new information medium seems to degrade reading because it disturbs the balance between focal and peripheral attention. This was true as early as the invention of writing, which Plato complained hollowed out focal memory. Similarly, William Wordsworth’s sister complained that he wasted his mind in the newspapers of the day. It takes time and adaptation before a balance can be restored, not just in the “mentality” of the reader, as historians of the book like to say, but in the social systems that complete the reading environment.

Right now, networked digital media do a poor job of balancing focal and peripheral attention. We swing between two kinds of bad reading.

Citation: Alan Liu, David Durand, Nick Montfort, Merrilee Proffitt, Liam R. E. Quin, Jean-Hugues Réty, and Noah Wardrip-Fruin. Version 1.1. August 5, 2005. Electronic Literature Organization. Retrieved [date of access]. <>.

This white paper is part of the Electronic Literature Organization’s PAD (Preservation / Archiving / Dissemination) initiative. PAD aims to create methods for preserving or migrating experimental, “born-digital” works of creative literature that are perishing with their original hardware and software environments.

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Citation: Bruce Bimber, Kevin Almeroth, Rob Patton, Dorothy Chun, Andrew Flanagin, and Alan Liu. March 4, 2002. Center for Information Technology and Society, University of California, Santa Barbara. Retrieved [date of access]. <>

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Citation: Alan Liu, “On the Hill,” The Little Magazine (Dragon Press / B. DeBoer) 10.3-4 (Fall-Winter, 1976): 13-24

Short story published in 1976 and included in my thesis for the M.A. in Creative Writing, Stanford University, 1979.  (Full text as PDF)