The literary history of the typewriter has its well-established milestones, with Mark Twain producing the first typewritten manuscript with Life on the Mississippi. But what about the first novel produced with a word processor? From an interesting New York Times piece, we learn about Matthew G. Kirschenbaum, an associate professor of English at the University of Maryland, who is on a mission to answer this question:
Uncovering a clean answer to the question “Who was the first novelist to use a word processor?” is a trickier business, though Mr. Kirschenbaum has promising leads. Through his agent he recently heard that the science-fiction writer Frank Herbert, the author of “Dune,” who died in 1986, may have submitted work to his publisher in the late 1970s on 8-inch floppy disks.
From his website, Kirschenbaum notes about his project:
The project I will be working on is entitled “Track Changes: Authorship, Archives, and Literary Culture After Word Processing.” Unlike my first book, Mechanisms (2008), where I was primarily interested in experimental instances of electronic literature, here I will be looking at the impact of digital media throughout all sectors of contemporary literary composition, publishing, reception, and archival preservation. I intend to argue that the full parameters of computers as what electronic publishing pioneer Ted Nelson three decades ago called “literary machines” have not yet been fully delineated, and that as a consequence we conceive of print and the digital as rival or successive forms rather than as elements of a process wherein relations between the two media (at the level of both individual and collective practice) are considerably more dynamic and contingent.
On a related note, it seems that Stephen King was one of the leaders in using a word processor to publish his stories/novels. Mr. King’s first computer — a behemoth with a beige molded casing, built-in monochrome screen, and an $11,500 price tag — has enjoyed a certain cultish afterlife. The name of Stephen King’s his first computer? Stephen King’s Wang. And Matthew G. Kirschenbaum is trying to buy it.