Nathalie Lawhead – A Pioneer in Interactive Literature (By Larry Lawhead)

Following is a critique written by Larry Lawhead about BlueSuburbia. I had been asking for critiques of my work (to use for press material, etc). The outcome was a summary very true to the project’s vision.
In short: He nailed it! :)

Nathalie Lawhead – A Pioneer in Interactive Literature
By Larry Lawhead

I recently watched an amazing demonstration of an interactive book given in April 2011 by Mike Matas of Push Pop Press. While watching this demo, I was reminded of an unusual book of interactive poetry I encountered a full eleven years earlier. Nathalie Lawhead’s Blue Suburbia has been viewed by thousands, written about, commented on and used by a number of teachers, professors and university students as an example of interactive art. However, only now as interactive books are becoming popular, do I realize what Nathalie actually created. Her poetry experience may well be one of the first, if not the very first truly interactive book.

BlueSuburbia (Game PLAY Trailer) from Nathalie Lawhead on Vimeo.

I remember having long conversations with Nathalie in the early to mid nineties about how artistic expression could find its way to the internet and what shape that expression could take. Her search for the appropriate technology was not easy. After a long process of searching, buying and trying she finally discovered Macromedia’s Flash technology (later bought by Adobe). Unlike the numerous pixel drawing tools of the mid nineties or amazing fractal design tools like Fauve Matisse, Flash was easy to learn, and did not over tax the processor (a huge show stopper in those days).

After several tries and prototypes, Blue Suburbia finally had its full online debut in 2000. Nathalie’s poetic feelings and observations of life during those wonderful years of teenage reflection touch the soul. However, her poetry plays only part in this mysterious experience and the key word here is experience. As we march across ancient Persia with Xenophon or accompany Julius Caesar through his conquest of Gall, we feel in part what they felt, we experience their sorrows and their victories. However, we are kept distant by the media through which their journey is depicted. Blue Suburbia pulls the reader into its mysterious world, but unlike the printed word, the experience is fully interactive. At times visiting the same location twice results in two separate but related experiences!

The absence of page numbers and the rich artistic format may cause some to argue the apparent lack of linear presentation is disturbing, but is this not the way poetry is typically enjoyed? Each verse stands on its own. Each statement supports a complete reflective thought. The rich imagery and audio effects submerse the reader into the poetry and into the world it creates.

Blue Suburbia and its companion volume Haiku Forge set an amazing standard for interactive literature. Books have passed the threshold into a world where they will become more exciting, more informative and pass to the reader more information than ever imagined. We are deeply in debited to creative pioneers such as Nathalie Lawhead and publishers such as Push Pop Press for bringing literature excellence to an entirely new level.

BlueSuburbia (Trailer) from Nathalie Lawhead on Vimeo.

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