Nick Montfort develops computational poetry and art, often collaboratively. He is professor of digital media at MIT and principal investigator in the Center for Digital Narrative at the University of Bergen, Norway. His lab/studio, The Trope Tank, has locations in New York City and at MIT. He studies creative computing and seeks to enable learning in many ways. He also devotes himself to computational art and media as an event organizer, curator, editor, and publisher. He lives in New York City with his spouse, Flourish Klink.
Montfort earned a Ph.D. in computer and information science from the University of Pennsylvania, a masters in creative writing (poetry) from Boston University, a masters in media arts and sciences from MIT, and undergraduate degrees in both liberal arts and computer science from the University of Texas at Austin.
As a poet and artist, he uses computation to engage language, literature, and cognition. His projects include very small-scale poetry generators such as those in ppg256 and Concrete Perl along with dozens of BASIC and assembly language Commodore 64 programs and many for the modern-day Web browser. Two decades ago, he co-founded the group blog Grand Text Auto and participated in it for the six years of that project. His early projects also include programming and writing the interactive fictions Winchester’s Nightmare, Ad Verbum and Book and Volume. He has developed a number of other works of computational poetry and art, including the collaborations Sea and Spar Between (with Stephanie Strickland) and The Deletionist (with Amaranth Borsuk and Jesper Juul).
Montfort works in several different contexts, including the Web, book publication, and literary readings but also gallery exhibition, the demoscene, and livecoding. He translates computational projects, and his own work has been translated into half a dozen languages. His free-software computer-generated novel World Clock was translated to Polish and published in ha!art’s Liberatura series, which also includes the Polish translations of Tristram Shandy and Finnegans Wake. His computer-generated novel Megawatt has been translated to German and published by Frohmann. Many of Montfort’s works, which are available as free software, have also been modified and transformed by others to become the basis for new work. His short generator “Taroko Gorge” has been the basis for dozens of published remixes in addition to projects in many classes. His work has been formally presented in Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, the Dominican Republic, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Mexico, Norway, Peru, Poland, Portugal, Russia, Singapore, Slovakia, Spain, Taiwan, and the United Kingdom.
Recent work includes computer-generated literary books published in print, many of which come from traditional publishers. Montfort’s #! (Counterpath, 2014; the title is pronounced “shebang”) contains poems/programs, each one executable. 2×6 (Les Figues, 2016) is book of computer-generated poems done in collaboration with six others, in English and five other languages. Montfort has three computer-generated print-on-demand titles, the latest of which is Autopia (Troll Thread, 2016), a book that has been featured in exhibits and included in the Library of Artistic Print on Demand. In 2017 Counterpath published Montfort’s The Truelist, a computer-generated long poem produced by a single page of Python code without use of any libraries or external data. His studio recording of this entire book is freely available on PennSound. Via his Bad Quarto micropress, Montfort published a limited print edition of the 2018 version of Hard West Turn — a computer-generated novel about gun violence in the United States. Most recently (2021), his book Golem was published by Dead Alive’s New Sight imprint.
Montfort founded and directs The Trope Tank, a DIY research lab/studio, based at MIT and in New York City. The Trope Tank undertakes scholarly and artistic projects and offers material computing resources. Dozens of artist/researchers have accomplished individual and collaborative projects in the framework of the Trope Tank, including international visiting faculty, Fulbright scholars, and, currently, a Grammy Award winning rapper. Montfort performs by programming visuals with musicians and by MCing under the name Doc Mofo. His work also includes (somewhat) more conventional poetry, for instance, Riddle & Bind (Spineless Books, 2010), a book of literary riddles and constrained poems. With William Gillespie, he is author of 2002: A Palindrome Story (Spineless Books, 2002), which the French literary and mathematical group the Oulipo acknowledged as the world’s longest literary palindrome.
As a scholar, Montfort studies how the computational workings of systems interact with their material histories and creative potentials. With Ian Bogost, he initiated the platform studies approach and the MIT Press book series Platform Studies, which he and Bogost edit. He and Bogost wrote Racing the Beam: The Atari Video Computer System (MIT Press, 2009), the first book in this series and the first to focus on how a particular computational platform is part of a creative ecology. The series now has twelve books, with four more in press.
Montfort’s contributions to a related field, Critical Code Studies, include organizing and co-authoring the first book using the methods of this field, 10 PRINT CHR$(205.5+RND(1)); : GOTO 10, (MIT Press, 2013). It is a 10-author publication written in a single voice, focusing on a one-line Commodore 64 BASIC program.
His contributions to the study of electronic literature (e-lit) include writing the first book focused on a single form of e-lit, Twisty Little Passages: An Approach to Interactive Fiction (MIT Press, 2003). Montfort has written extensively about different forms of electronic literature, digital poetics, and digital art and media. His book The Future was published as part of the MIT Press Essential Knowledge series in 2017. The book deals with how the future has been imagined and made, through the work of writers, artists, inventors, and designers.
As an educator and to foster learning, Montfort teaches in conventional and unconventional ways, as a classroom teacher, a textbook author, and a developer of other learning resources. He leads workshops internationally and has taught for the alternative arts organizations SFPC (School for Poetic Computation) and SOSA (Society of Spoken Art). He has developed and taught numerous courses at MIT and some at other universities. His textbook Exploratory Programming for the Arts and Humanities (MIT Press, 2016) continues his long-term efforts to teach programming as a method of culturally engaged inquiry and creativity; the second edition was published in print form and as a digital open access book in 2021.
Montfort was co-editor of The Electronic Literature Collection Volume 1 (with N. Katherine Hayles, Stephanie Strickland, and Scott Rettberg, ELO, 2006). The multivolume Collection, which he founded with Rettberg, has continued and there are now four volumes, all of them open access. Montfort also co-edited The New Media Reader (with Noah Wardrip-Fruin, MIT Press, 2003), which has been widely used for two decades to introduce artists and others to digital media and art. With Lillian-Yvonne Bertram, he is currently editing an anthology of computer-generated text, a book that will be the first of its sort and which hopefully will introduce not only classroom students but also many other readers to the history of generative text.
To offer leadership in the arts and in higher education, Montfort works in editorial, academic, and other roles. He currently edits the Using Electricity series of literary computer-generated books for Counterpath, a nonprofit press in Denver. Thirteen books have been published in this series. He also is series editor, with Mary Flanagan, of the Hardcopy series of MIT Press, which presents computational art projects that intersect with book art and publishing innovations. Montfort runs a micropress, Bad Quarto, which publishes a small number of small-scale print works and has the online literary journal Taper as its main project. The journal, with an international editorial collective, base of contributors, and readership, is now in its tenth issue.
Montfort’s current academic leadership at MIT includes chairing the Institute-wide Committee on the Library System; chairing the Digital Humanities Advisory Committee for the School of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences; and serving as undergraduate officer and chair of the curriculum committee for the Comparative Media Studies and Writing Department. He has a part-time appointment at the University of Bergen in Norway as professor II. There, he is a principal investigator in the Center for Digital Narrative, leading the Computational Narrative Systems research node.
Montfort served for five years as lead organizer for Synchrony (a demoparty, or particular sort of digital art festival). For four of those years, the event started in New York City, continued on a train, and concluded in Montreal. He has curated several exhibits including an online exhibit presented during the pandemic, Generative Unfoldings, done for MIT’s Center for Art, Science, and Technology. Montfort also served as president of the Electronic Literature Organization for a three-year term and was a member of that Organization’s board of directors for more than ten years.
—NM, July 2023
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As a poet and artist, Nick Montfort uses computation as his medium. His computer-generated books range from #! to Golem. His digital projects include the collaborations The Deletionist and Sea and Spar Between. Montfort is a scholar, researcher, and educator. His MIT Press publications include The New Media Reader (which he co-edited) and Twisty Little Passages, The Future, and Exploratory Programming for the Arts and Humanities. He is professor of digital media at MIT and principal investigator in the Center for Digital Narrative at the University of Bergen. He directs a lab/studio, The Trope Tank, and lives in New York City.