Coverley began her career in 1996, working in open web languages to produce hypertext narratives that explore a range of topics, including women's history, mythology, and contemporary socio-political issues.
Coverley began her career in 1996, working in open web languages to produce hypertext narratives that explore a range of topics, including women's history, mythology, and contemporary socio-political issues.
with Ted Warnell
The lure of digital hypermedia in web-based art, drew Coverley to long-form, hypermedia writing. From 2000 to 2006 she published two major interactive novels, Califia and Egypt: The Book of Going Forth by Day.
Beginning in 2000 with "Universal Resource Locator," Coverley published nine Flash works, collaborating with other artists like Reiner Strasser and Stephanie Strickland who were also interested in the affordances of this platform for creative expression on the web.
with Stephanie Strickland
with Reiner Strasser
With the introduction of YouTube in 2005 and the iPhone in 2009, Coverley returned to open web languages or platforms that favored video and other media forms, exploring with Excel, Power Point, and Vimeo for producing works of fiction.
with Stephanie Strickland
with Eric Luesebrink
Flash preservation and MIDI translation to .mp3 was undertaken by Andrew Thompson and Arlo Ptolemy, two graduating seniors from the Creative Media & Digital Culture (CMDC) program. Website recoding was done by the lab's tech specialist Greg Philbrook (a CMDC alum) and Andrew Thompson. Our Lead Designer Holly Slocum (a CMDC alum) produced the logo and interface and coded the website. Assisting her with the development of the images was multimedia designer Ariel Wallace; Sierra O'Neal produced the 2D animation from Slocum's logo design. Both are graduating seniors in the CMDC program. Information for the copy was developed and researched by the lab's Assistant Director and metadata specialist Richard Snyder. He also served as the lead liaison with the artist on behalf of the lab. His efforts also are seen in the enhancement to The Marjorie C. Luesebrink Collection where the works in this exhibition will be permanently hosted. Dene Grigar, who directs the Electronic Literature Lab and the CMDC Program and serves as the Managing Director and Curator of The NEXT, conceptualized the exhibition, worked with the artist to determine the works to feature in it, and wrote the copy.
"Horizon Insight: A Retrospective of the Art of M. D. Coverley" showcases the creative output of this prolific electronic literature artist. Since 1996 Coverley, the pen name for Marjorie C . Luesebrink, has published well over 30 works of media art, of which 27 are featured here. The title of this exhibition is drawn from the name Coverley gave as publisher of her interactive novel, Egypt: The Book of Going Forth by Day,  but it also reflects the decades-long span of her vision for computer-based art that explores a wide terrain of platforms, formats, and software that includes Toolbook, Director, Flash, Power Point, video, and Excel for producing hypermedia narratives and interactive novels with a distinct focus on multi-vocal storytelling and multi-plot structures.
The exhibition is organized into four main areas of Coverley's production, beginning with hypertext narratives from 1996. This structuring system aims to provide visitors with insights into the approaches on which she has focused her artistic output rather than suggest a strict demarcation of defined periods based on chronology. For example, 10 of the 11 works were produced between 1996 to 2001 as hypertextual stories created in open-web languages. After shifting her attention to experiments with Flash and other proprietary software beginning 2000, Coverley returned to HTML with "Tarim Tapestry" in 2012. Thus, all of the works organized in this area of artistic output sees Coverley working in open web languages to produce narratives that explore a range of topics, including women's history, mythology, and contemporary socio-political issues.
The lure of digital hypermedia in web-based art drew Coverley to long-form, hypermedia writing. From 2000 to 2006 she published two major interactive novels, Califia and Egypt: The Book of Going Forth by Day. Both provided her with the opportunity to more fully realize her interest in mythology, with the former novel relaying a foundational myth of Californian history embued with the dream of boom and bust born out of The Gold Rush; and the latter, to the mythology of Egypt with its rich interplay of image and storytelling.
It is important to point out that the constraints of the web during this period of Coverley's career made long-form, media-rich works difficult to access, particularly for readers using dial up modems. This explains the need for both novels to be published on CD-ROM. Her comfort with Toolbook II, which easily incorporated sound, images, animations, and words, made it ideal for the complex, multivocal storyline of Califia. During that same period Director had become one of the leading platforms for interactive media, making it the platform of choice for the production of Egypt: The Book of Going Forth by Day. While both Toolbook II and Director are no longer supported and have become obsolete software platforms, the exhibition showcases Coverley's novels via the documentary website Coverley produced and the video documentation of performances she has given of the authorized version captured by the Electronic Literature Lab.
The popularity of Flash as a platform for media-rich storytelling for the web cannot be overstated. Writers like Coverley found the ability to express themselves with movement, sound, music, and user interaction and participation––not to mention with an expanded color palette and spatial orientation particularly attractive since it was fairly easy to use and prepare for wide dissemination. So popular was Flash by 2005 as a platform for intellectual and creative expression that theorist Lev Manovich called this new era of cultural producers "Generation Flash" (Manovich, qtd. in Salter and Murray 3). Coverley's own exploration of Flash coincides with this period of media history. Beginning in 2000 with "Universal Resource Locator," she published nine Flash works, collaborating with other artists like Reiner Strasser and Stephanie Strickland who were also interested in the affordances of this platform for creative expression on the web.
With the introduction of YouTube in 2005 and the iPhone in 2009 (the device that also predicated the end of Flash) , Coverley like many literary artists returned to open web languages or to new platforms that favored video and other media forms. During this period Coverley began exploring with Excel, Power Point, and video via Vimeo for producing works of fiction. What is obvious when experiencing the art in this exhibition is Coverley's drive to create and her ingenuity to leverage the tools on hand to tell complex stories for new audiences of digital art and writing and drawing upon a wide range of knowledge and topics to do so.
This exhibition of Coverley's art constitutes the first retrospective mounted at The NEXT and, as such, lays bare the efforts it takes to feature works that encompass the long stretch of an artist's career that, due to technological innovations and the fragility of the art form, may no longer be readily available for exhibition. The fact is, in order to show the breadth of an artist's career, curators of media art retrospectives may often be required to preserve the art they want to show through processes like restoration, migration, emulation, or documentation.
Such is the case with Coverley's oeuvre. Her first published work, "Elys, The Lacemaker: The Book of Hours of Madame de Lafayette," was published two years after the mainstreaming of the web browser and was included in Christy Sheffield Sanford's collaborative web project for the trAce Online Writing Centre. A hypermedia work involving midi sound files, "Elys, The Lacemaker," required us to translate the two MIDI files used eight different times in the work into .mp3 files and recode the work with the updated file information in order to provide visitors to the exhibition with a seamless experience with the work.  Additionally, we could not showcase the published version of the work since the trAce site and Sanford's project are no longer accessible on the web and its publication predates the period in which the Internet Archive's Wayback Machine began crawling and archiving the web. This means that we are not certain if the version we are featuring in the exhibition that comes from Coverley's own archives dated 1996 differs from the version that appeared online in 1997. "Elys, The Lacemaker," was not the only work that required sound files translated from the MIDI to .mp3 format and webpages recoded. In total, we had to undertake this restoration work for 124 instances of MIDIs being called in 110 files across 15 of her works.
Flash works also figured into the restoration process since, as mentioned previously, Coverley experimented with that platform for hypermedia storytelling for nine works during the period of 2000-2004. As most of us are aware, Adobe announced that it would no longer support the software program after December 31, 2020, a situation that led to the demise of so many important works of net art. Since January 2021 the Electronic Literature Lab has been systematically been preserving Flash net art and electronic literature for inclusion in The NEXT, saving, to date, over 500 works via mainly Ruffle and Conifer. The first exhibition mounted for The NEXT, "afterflash", featured 48 Flash works the lab preserved with these two methods as well as through the documentation of playthroughs. In terms of Coverley's art, seven of her more straightforward Flash works could be saved with Ruffle; the more complex works required preservation via Rhizome's Conifer.
The two interactive novels also required our intervention in order to be shown in this exhibition. Because Califia is under copyright with Eastgate Systems, Inc., we could not migrate or emulate it for this exhibition. Fortunately, we had conducted a Traversal  of Califia in 2016 and made the videos available via Vimeo and the multimedia, open-source book, Rebooting Electronic Literature Volume 3. The eight videos featuring Coverley performing the novel and the seven videos that capture her interview about the work, along with videos of two readers performing Califia, are included in the exhibition as a way of providing visitors an experience with the work. Additionally, the exhibition includes the documentary website Coverley produced of Califia that hints at the work's robust multimedia and complex storyline.
Egypt: The Book of Going Forth by Day, the second major interactive novel Coverley created, is also published on CD-ROM, though unlike Califia was created with Director. As mentioned previously, Director is no longer supported by Adobe. But adding to the complexity of restoring the work is the fact that copies of 1st Edition each contained a specific spell for a named owner-reader, meaning that there is no single original version. Thus, to include the work in the exhibition, we provide a Traversal of it by Coverley, captured during the exhibition opening. This video documentation augments the web documentation that Coverley assembled called "Aegypt: A Restoration Project" also included in the exhibition.
Of the 27 works featured in this exhibition, only 14 were intact and needed no intervention to showcase them.
Hard choices we had to make: We opted to exhibit "Elys, The Lacemaker" though it was missing one MIDI file. "Endless Suburbs" is included though the effect of a page turning on the screen made possible by now obsolete Java Applets is no longer possible. "To Be Here as Stone Is," a work first published in Stephanie Strickland's Storyspace hypertext poem, True North (1997) and released later for the web, was deemed by the artists as not suitable for exhibition though the web version is currently hosted in The NEXT. Finally, one of my favorite works by Coverley, "Pyxis Byzantium," was missing so many of its original files that it did not fully represent its scope and spirit. For that reason, it is not included in this exhibition.
The process for restoring the works took close to two months and involved numerous members of the Electronic Literature Lab team. Flash preservation and MIDI translation to .mp3 was undertaken by Andrew Thompson and Arlo Ptolemy, two graduating seniors from the Creative Media & Digital Culture (CMDC) program who have been working in the lab since last spring. Website recoding was done by the lab's tech specialist Greg Philbrook (and a CMDC alum) and Thompson.
Exhibitions mounted by The NEXT are intended to take place in the natural setting of digital space. To align it with The NEXT's vision, they are also designed to be participatory, interactive, and experiential. Visitors to "Horizon Insight," for example, may notice that the exhibition space involves a horizonal scroller, thus evoking the notion of traversing across a landscape. The line that delineates the title carries through the space in a way that emphases, once again, a horizon to follow and explore. The interactive elements––that is, the images of Coverley's works that appear and fade and link to individual exhibition spaces––are intended to reflect insights Coverley had as she created the works.
The exhibition space was produced by the lab's lead designer and project manager Holly Slocum (a CMDC alum), who also produced the logo and interface and coded the website. Assisting her with the development of the images was multimedia designer Ariel Wallace; the 2D animated logo was created by Sierra O'Neal. Both are graduating seniors in the CMDC program. Information for the copy was developed and researched by the lab's Assistant Director and metadata specialist Richard Snyder. He also served as the lead liaison with the artist on behalf of the lab. His efforts also are seen in the enhancement to The Marjorie C. Luesebrink Collection where the works in this exhibition will be permanently hosted. Dene Grigar, who directs the Electronic Literature Lab and the CMDC Program and serves as the Managing Director and Curator of The NEXT, conceptualized the exhibition, worked with the artist to determine the works to feature in it, and wrote the copy.
We thank M. D. Coverley for putting her faith in our ability to aptly showcase her art. We also want to acknowledge the Electronic Literature Organization for its visionary spirit toward digital art and writing.
 See http://califia.us/avegypt.htm.
 See Steve Jobs' "Thoughts on Flash," published April 29, 2010, qtd, in https://medium.com/riow/thoughts-on-flash-1d1c8588fe07.
 When launching the work, the .mid files are downloaded, but this means they do not play unless activated.
 In their book Traversals: The Use of Preservation for Early Electronic Writing, Stuart Moulthrop and Dene Grigar define the Traversal as a "reflective encounter with a digital text in which the possibilities of that text are explored in a way that indicates its key features, capabilities, and themes" (7).
Moulthrop, Stuart and Dene Grigar. Traversals: The Use of Preservation for Early Electronic Writing. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2017.
Salter, Anastasia and John Murray. Flash: Building the Interactive Web. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2014.
This retrospective offers a rare opportunity to assess a quarter-century of extraordinary electronic work by Marjorie Luesebrink, who writes under the pen name M. D. Coverley. Since Margie is a dear close friend, I will divide my remarks into three sections: the personal, the technical, and the visionary.
I first met Margie when she was a participant in my 1995 NEH Summer Seminar entitled "Literature in Transition." I had become aware of the field of electronic literature, and I thought it had great potential for transforming contemporary literature, expanding the literary horizon beyond the printed page into images, animation, music, color, and much more. That summer our group read theoretical criticism as well as the oeuvre of electronic literature as it existed at that time, for example Michael Joyce’s Afternoon, coded in the Storyspace software by Eastgate Systems. I included in our reading list a piece of my own entitled "Flickering Signifiers," written to convince my skeptical colleagues in English Departments that there was indeed a difference between static ink marks on paper and screen letters generated by codes. Of the twelve participants, Margie was the most adventuresome in putting these ideas into practice. I remember that at our final session, she unveiled a little animation she had created that made the words "flickering signifers" indeed flicker! That seminar opened the door for her, and she wasted no time in running through it into the beyond of the rapidly growing field of electronic literature. It is amazing to think that a mere five years later, in 2000, she had progressed to creating an electronic novel, Califia, which was a pioneering work in its day and remains a landmark achievement in the field. With 800 screens and over 2400 images, Califia explores the possibilities for a long-form narrative in a way that few others have dared to do. Along with her other electronic novel Egypt: The Book of Going Forth By Day and twenty-five shorter works, this body of work demonstrates Margie’s expanding expertise in design, her joy in the craft of writing, and her courageous innovations in multiple coding systems.
In creating Califia, Coverley faced a number of artistic and narrative challenges. When the author gives the reader the opportunity to choose the pathways to follow through the work, she gives up many traditional ways to create suspense, tension, and climax. Storyspace had partially kept some authorial control over how the reader would encounter various parts of the narrative by the so-called "guard fields" that made some lexias inaccessible until certain other lexias had been accessed. Coverley had already determined that Storyspace was not really suitable for works on the web, so in creating Califia she chose Toolbook II instead. She created her own navigation template by parsing the narrative parts into journeys corresponding to the four points of the compass: North to San Simeon, East to the Windmill and solar farms, South to Paradise Home where Violet Summerland resided, and West to the Chumash heritage of Willing Stars, the blue blanket, and clues to the hidden gold stash. Throughout, the three main narrators, the practical-minded Augusta Summerland, the documentarian Calvin, and the mystical Kaye provided multiple ways to access the history of the search for gold, its relation to early and present-day Californian focus on wealth and quick money, and the deeper significance of the Californian dreams. In effect, she has created a new kind of form, the database novel.
The form was not without precedents in print fiction. John Dos Passos had experimented with the idea in his 1937 USA trilogy, combining narration with newspaper headlines and bits of cinemographic imagery. More recently, David Foster Wallace created a kind of hypertext novel in the 1996 Infinite Jest, with information crucial to the plot buried in footnotes, so that readers are constantly flipping back and forth between the notes and main text. But these were print texts, bound together in a certain order that invited—indeed almost required—a linear reading procedure. With Califia, by contrast, individual sections could be read linearly, but the hypertext links made the narrative function more like a web than a straight road, with multiple crosscutting threads and connections. It was one of the first works that showed how a true hypertext novel could function as a densely patterned narrative able to generate a sense of coherence, suspense and climax in ways quite different from traditional print literature.
The other major point about the technical challenges that this body of work faced is obsolescence, the practice of proprietary software companies of discontinuing support for their products. Coverley responded to this challenge with extraordinary persistence and ingenuity. When Toolbook became obsolete, she re-coded Califia into a version available in this retrospective. With Egypt she had moved to Director, but it too became obsolete. Many of her shorter works were coded in Flash, which ceased to be supported at the end of 2020, dealing a severe blow to the canon of electronic literature, much of which had used Flash and is now unplayable.
Undeterred, Coverley showed her ingenuity by turning to the one platform she felt would not be rendered obsolete, because it is too widely used by the business community—Excel—and used it to create the 2015 "Fukushima Pinup Calendar." Recently she has experimented with video fictions, including "Pacific Surfliner," "Legends of Michigami: Riding the Rust Belt," and "Legends of Michigami: Prairie Chants."
Coverley speaks somewhere about the "shaping consciousness" of the writer, the underlying vision expressed in surface manifestations such as plot, character, diction and so forth, but that corresponds exactly with none of these. Since I think that good creative writing has roots in the unconscious and nonconscious as well as in consciousness, I prefer to talk instead about the "shaping vision" of a writer’s work. Attempting to articulate a writer’s "shaping vision" is one of the most challenging tasks that a critic can undertake, for it distills from the details of a corpus of work an intuitive sense of what motivates the works as a whole. If I may put it this way, the "shaping vision" is what propels a writer to choose the topics she does, the methods she employs, the characters she creates—in brief, what vision the writer seeks to convey, the topics of ultimate concern that motivate and energize her writing. Since discerning this is an exercise in intuition as much as rational analysis, it can easily be wrong. Nevertheless, with apologies in advance to the writer and to her readers if they disagree, here is my sense of the shaping vision of Coverley’s oeuvre.
One way in is to focus on the importance of inheritance—monetary, historical, familial, mystical. In Califia, for example, inheritance takes the concrete form of the coins that Augusta searches for in her back yard, or the gold stash for which the seekers search. But inheritance also means the history of one’s family and the land in which one lives, the deep layers, psychological and archeological, that shape the present in ways both direct and indirect. Inheritance is also linked with the fragility of human memories and the capriciousness of historical records, what can be passed on and what is lost to torn or missing photographs, eroding brain cells, blurred writings or recollections. For example, Violet Summerland in Califia lives in the neverland of dementia; the shorter fiction "In the white darkness" a Flash work, performs the fragility of memories that are fading or lost. It is a sad irony that technological memory, the ability to play pieces coded in obsolete platforms, has proved even more fragile than human memories.
Inheritance seems to be so important because it hints at the other major aspect of the shaping vision, the possibility that human lives are linked with much larger patterns: the patterns of the stars at night, the numbers of the Fibonacci sequence, the layered histories in which certain patterns seem to repeat themselves across the generations. In turn, the patterns suggest that there may be meta-meanings at work that weave the particulars of a specific life or person into much larger concerns that tie together the past and present, the histories that are known with events lost to time. In Egypt, for example, Jeanette’s search for her missing brother Ross links her mission with the much older myths of Isis and Osiris. The three voices in which she speaks—her narrative of her voyage down the Nile, her letters to her sister Nancy, and the unconscious voice that originates in myth and sky—are linked with the ka, ba and akh concepts of Egyptian mythology. At issue here is a deep homology between the multimedia aspect of Egyptian writing systems and the multimedia possibilities of electronic literature. Integrating animations, music, text and spatially oriented writing, Eygpt reminds us of the materiality of writing systems past and present.
The hopes expressed in this shaping vision are that human lives are not lived in a vacuum but in relation to layered histories that extend deep into the past and that connect with transpersonal patterns in the universe, from the growth patterns of seeds to the cosmic lines drawn by the stars. The shaping vision of Coverley’s hypertext fictions, then, is to reveal these patterns to us, to call for us to embrace even our brutal histories of oppression, greed, and genocide, for if we erase the past or choose to ignore it, we cannot understand the deep meanings of our own lives n the present.
This, among many other reasons, is why we should all be grateful to the restoration work of the NEXT project, especially Dene Grigar and her team, in preserving and re-animating these works. It is a magnificent gift to Margie, to all of us, and to the field of electronic literature as a whole.