Rebooting Electronic Literature: Documenting Pre-Web Born Digital Media

Judy Malloy's "its name was Penelope"

Judy Malloy's Biography

With a literary and visual arts background that includes artists books, text-based installation art, and narrative performance art, and with experience as a computer programmer for early library systems, Judy Malloy is a poet who works at the conjunction of hypernarrative, magic realism, and information art. Her work with nonsequential literature began in 1976, the year she started exploring nonsequential narrative in experimental artists books. In subsequent years, she created a series of card catalog artists books that were first exhibited as a series in the exhibition, “Judy Malloy 3X5,” Visual Card Catalogs at Artworks, in Venice, California in 1979. The first artists book in her series of push-button electromechanical books was created for her installation, “Technical Information,” at SITE in San Francisco in 1981. Then, in August of 1986, she began writing and programming the hyperfiction Uncle Rogerwhich was first released on the BBS of Art Com Electronic Networkon the WELL in December 1986.

Her work has been exhibited and published internationally including the San Francisco Art Institute; Tisch School of the Arts, NYU; Sao Paulo Biennial; the Library of Congress, National Library of Madrid; National Library of Portugal, Lisbon; Los Angeles Institute for Contemporary Art; Boston Cyberarts Festival; Walker Art Center; Hammer Museum, Los Angeles, CA; University of Arizona Museum of Art; Visual Studies Workshop; the Electronic Literature Organization; Universite Paris I-Pantheon-Sorbonne; Eastgate Systems; E .P. Dutton; Tanam Press; Seal Press; MIT Press;The Iowa Review Web, and Blue Moon Review, among many others. Parts of her recent work, Paths of Memory and Painting, have been exhibited or presented at the Berkeley Center for New Media Roundtable, the E-Poetry Festival at the Center of Contemporary Art in Barcelona, and the University of California Irvine, as well as short listed for the Prix poesie-media 2009, Biennale Internationale des poetes en Val de Marne. In 2012, her work was given a retrospective at the Electronic Literature Organization Conference in Morgantown, West Virginia. Her papers––including the original notebooks and programs for Uncle Roger and its name was Penelope––are archived as the Judy Malloy Papers at the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library at Duke University.

Judy Malloy has also been active in documenting the electronic arts and is the host of content | code | process. She has been an artist in residence and consultant in the document of the future for Xerox PARC, taught as Visiting Faculty in the Digital Media program at the San Francisco Art Institute and is a member of the Electronic Literature Organization’s Literary Advisory Board. In 2013, she was named the Anschutz Distinguished Fellow in American Studies at Princeton University, where she also taught a seminar on Social Media: History, Poetics, and Practice and later team-taught a seminar on Electronic Literature: Lineage, Theory, and Contemporary Practice. From 2016-2017, she was a Digital Studies Fellow at the Rutgers Camden University Digital Studies Center. As an arts writer, she has worked most notably as Editor of the MIT Press books, Women, Art, and Technology; as Editor of The New York Foundation for the Arts’ NYFA Current, (originally Arts Wire Current) an Internet-based National journal on the arts and culture; and as an Associate Editor for Leonardo. She believes that ideally print literature and electronic literature are parallel art forms where writers and artists in each medium understand each other’s vision and, as between poetry and fiction, sometimes move with ease between print and screen.”–From Pathfinders
Versions of its name was Penelope

✭ Version 1.0: The 1989 Exhibition Edition
This edition was created in 1989 with Malloy's own generative hypertext authoring system, Narrabase II, in BASIC on a 3.5-inch floppy disk

✭ Version 2.0: The 1989 Narrabase Press Edition
Published in 1990, this edition is an extensive revision of the 1989 Exhibition Edition and features a new cover and the edited text. It was released on a 5.25-inch floppy disk, self-published via Narrabase Press, and distributed by Art Com Software. The artist reports that she may have produced copies on 3.5-inch floppy disks for later requests though none can be yet found

✭ Version 3.0: The 1993 Eastgate Edition for Macintosh Computers
This edition, copyrighted in 1992 but published in 1993, is a retooling by Mark Bernstein of Version 2.0 from the original BASIC program into the Storyspace aesthetic. Published on 3.5-inch floppy disk for both Mac

✭ Version 4.0 The 1993 Eastgate Edition for Windows
This edition was released after the 1993 Macintosh Edition and also published on 3.5-inch floppy disk

✭ Version 5.0: The 1998 CD-ROM Edition
Published on CD-ROM in 1998 with no changes from the original 1993 Macintosh Edition, this version does not appear on the Eastgate Systems, Inc. website

✭ Version 6.0: The Scholar's Edition
Created under the auspices of the Critical Code Studies Working Group 2016 from Jan 18 to Feb 14, 2016, this edition is a DOSBox emulation of Version 3.0 and includes new text and translations of Homer's Odyssey by the artist

A special note: An iPad version had been in development since 2012 by Eastgate Systems, Inc. Grigar had the opportunity to read a Beta version of it at the ELO conference in Bergen, Norway in 2015. It was designed with the same aesthetic as Version 3.0 but used the affordance of mobile touch technology for its functionality. To date, it has not been completed.


Bernstein, Mark. “Fresh Code.” 17 Aug. 2011.

—. “Interview with Judy Malloy.” 2 Aug. 2010.

Coover, Robert. “Hyperfiction: Novels for the Future.” The New York Times Review of Books.  29 Aug. 1993. Republished.

Kendall, Robert. “But I Know What I Like.” ACM SIGWEB Newsletter. Volume 8. Issue 2. June 1999. 8-13.

Malloy, Judy. its name was Penelope, Version 2.0 (emulated). YouTube. 11 Dec. 2017.

–––. “its Name was Penelope, a Generative Hypertext.” #WomenTechLit. Ed. Maria Mencia. West Virginia University Press, 2017.

Judy Malloy. “People.” The WELL.

“Judy Malloy Papers, 1956-2010.” The David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Duke University.

Malloy, Judy. “Notes on the Creation of its name was Penelope. The WELL.

Marshall, Cathy. Reading and Writing the Electronic Book. San Rafael, CA: Morgan & Claypool Publishers. 2010.

McKeever. Alice. “Digital Literature Pioneers.” The Library Platform. May 2014.

–––. “Digital Literature Pioneers: Judy Malloy on Narrabases.” The Library Platform. 24 April 2014.

Page, Barbara. “Women Writers and the Restive Text: Feminism, Experimental Writing, and Hypertext.” Postmodern Culture. Volume 6. Number 2. January 1996.

Princenthal, Nancy. “The Technology of Poetry: Review of its name was Penelope.” American Book Review. Volume 15. Number 1. April/May 1993.  

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