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For their own good
Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
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FSU professor: She's leaving me for Ted Turner
With such a start, an e-mail fast-forwards to the world.
By COLETTE BANCROFT, Times Books Editor
Published August 2, 2007
Authors Robert Butler and Elizabeth Dewberry, shown at their Monticello home in 2000, are divorcing. She has begun a relationship with media mogul Ted Turner. Butler's e-mail on the split circulated far beyond friends.
[AP photo (2000)]
The e-mail describes Ted Turner as "permanently and avowedly nonmonogamous."
E-mail memos from college professors are rarely quoted in the New York Post's Page Six gossip column.
Nor are they often posted on the gossip site Gawker.com, snuggled next to the latest dirt about Britney Spears.
But then, few college professors write memos to explain, in jaw-droppingly personal detail, why their wives are leaving them for media mogul Ted Turner. (Click here to read the post on Gawker.com.)
Robert Olen Butler's e-mail, intended for only a few sets of eyes, has turned into the memo heard -- and snarked about -- 'round the world.
"I've had better days," said Butler, 62, a Pulitzer Prize-winning writer, Florida State University professor -- and the odd man out in a love triangle involving his 44-year-old wife and a 68-year-old billionaire.
"In fact, it's been a tough six weeks," Butler said by phone from Tallahassee. That's how long ago he wrote the e-mail and sent it to about a dozen graduate students and faculty members at FSU.
He wanted them to have the "full and nuanced story," he wrote, about why he and his wife of 12 years, Elizabeth Dewberry, a novelist and FSU writer in residence, were divorcing. Dewberry had become involved with Turner, who has a sprawling estate near Tallahassee, and she and Butler had decided to end the marriage.
The e-mail includes details about Dewberry's struggles with the emotional effects of childhood sexual abuse, which she has written and spoken publicly about, as well as her difficulty in pursuing her writing career in the shadow of a Pulitzer-winning husband.
Butler won the prize in 1993 for his story collection A Good Scent From a Strange Mountain. Dewberry has published five novels. The most recent, His Lovely Wife, is about a young woman, married to an emotionally distant Nobel Prize winner, who is haunted by the ghost of Princess Diana. It won the Bronze Medal for fiction in the 2006 Florida Book Awards.
Butler's e-mail also describes Dewberry's nonexclusive relationship with Turner, whom Butler describes as "permanently and avowedly nonmonogamous."
Butler asked the e-mail's original recipients to pass the story along to other friends and colleagues who might be interested. "This sort of thing can get wildly distorted pretty quickly," he wrote.
He had no idea. The memo first edged into the public eye on Tuesday in GalleyCat, a publishing industry blog, where it was referred to in a blind item that didn't identify Butler, Dewberry or Turner.
Not long after that, the e-mail was posted in full on Gawker.com, a Manhattan-based blog that specializes in media news and gossip. It's infamous for its Gawker Stalker feature, which posts up-to-the-second celebrity sightings.
The intro on Gawker called Butler's e-mail "insane insane INSANE."
By Wednesday night, the e-mail had more than 22,000 page views, putting it on Gawker's "popular" list. Judgment of the personal lives of strangers being a blood sport on the Internet, hundreds of comments on the e-mail and on the three people involved were posted. Few were kind.
Neither Dewberry nor Turner would comment on the memo. Butler said he read it to Dewberry before he sent it and she was "tearfully grateful."
He said he doesn't think any of the e-mail's original recipients sent it to Gawker. "But somebody sent it to somebody who sent it to somebody else."
Choire Sicha, Gawker's managing editor, concurs. "It was definitely on at least its third forward," he wrote in an e-mail Wednesday.
Sicha and editor Emily Gould didn't take long to decide to run it. The e-mail itself was interesting, he wrote, and "to us, authors are celebrities! The Ted Turner thing was just icing on the cake. Not even icing -- little decorations on the icing. Books are one of Manhattan's most important products."
It also didn't take them long to decide to post Butler's angry response on Wednesday morning. Sicha wrote, "It seems to me at least fair to let people represent themselves, and to have their say. We don't mind being cussed out in our own home!"
Butler wrote, "The sad thing about your sneeringly printing this in a blog is that both of us are easily dehumanized."
He said he doesn't regret the response or the original e-mail. "I wrote it to protect Elizabeth. I guess I was a little naive. After all, it's Ted Turner."
Butler said the media response has been astonishing. "Good grief, I've talked to People magazine today. You'd think we were Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston."
Gawker isn't Butler's first experience with the tabloid mentality; his 1996 story collection Tabloid Dreams was based on outlandish headlines. This experience could someday prove to be grist for the fictional mill, he said.
While on the phone, Butler said, "I'm getting e-mail from strangers."
He clicked, then began to laugh. "The subject line on this one is, 'You may not be Brad Pitt, but...,' " a reference to some of the Gawker posts critiquing his appearance. "The rest of the message is, 'I did buy two of your books today.'"