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Pulitzer Prize Winner’s Wife Leaves for Ted Turner’s Harem

Robert Olen Butler, a Pulitzer Prize winning author, is a believer that what goes on in the marriage bed should be shared with others and thus when his wife of twelve years, Elizabeth Dewberry, left him for Ted Turner, he wrote a long detailed email to his favorite grad students and others about the demise of his relationship.

Gawker has the entire email, but probably the best part is when Butler compares Turner to Dewberry’s abusive, child molesting grandfather or when he describes Ted Turner as being deeply devoted to his harem of girlfriends.

Elizabeth is leaving me for Ted Turner.

She and I will remain the best of friends. She also knows about, endorses, and even encourages that I tell this much detail of the story:
She has spoken openly in her work and in her public life of the fact that she was molested by her grandfather from an early age, a molestation that was known and tacitly condoned by her radically Evangelical Christian parents. She then went into a decade-long abusive marriage. I met her when she was in a terminally desperate state from this lifetime of abuse, and we married and we truly loved each other. . . .

And it is very common for a woman to be drawn to men who remind them of their childhood abusers. Ted is such a man, though fortunately, he is far from being abusive. From all that I can tell, he is kind to her, loyal, considerate, and devoted to his family, and perhaps, therefore, he can redeem some things for her. . . .

She will not be Ted’s only girlfriend. Ted is permanently and avowedly non-monogamous. But though he has several girlfriends, it is a very small number, and he does not take them up lightly and he gives them his absolute support when he does.

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com


  1. Sarah McCarty
    Aug 02, 2007 @ 15:06:06

    “he does not take them up lightly and he gives them his absolute support when he does.”

    Well, uhm, okay, I guess. Gotta say, though, it takes a lot for a man to gain my attention, a heck of a lot more to hold it and the type of support this implies would not even rate a 1 on my richter scale of interest so I’m rather…underwhelmed by the accolade. For sheer weirdness factor, though, this is off the scale. Why is it that people think they have to air to the world at large every fart that’s let in their personal lives? *shaking head* What makes them think we WANT to know stuff like this?

    Boundaries, please. We need to reinstitute the concept of boundaries. *sigh* Either that or I just have to call myself officially old so I have an excuse for being constantly stunned.


  2. Robin
    Aug 02, 2007 @ 16:54:04

    I have never understood the appeal of Ted Turner, and this revelation does nothing to change that. Still, the idea that Butler’s marriage to Dewberry was all about “making her whole,” and the split about allowing her to get out of the “shadow of the Pulitzer” may be even more disturbing than Turner’s harem. I can’t begin to discern whether she’s trading up, down, or inside out, but maybe the three of them should try living together for maximum therapeutic value — for all of them.


  3. sherry thomas
    Aug 02, 2007 @ 21:54:31

    Something is wrong with the lot of them.

    If I were an English professor, I’d be really embarrassed and hasten to assure my students I’d never subject them to such intimate details of my life.

    I think a man who maintains multiple girlfriends is sleazy, from Hugh Hefner on down.

    And I cannot express my disappointment that in this day and age, a well-educated woman would willingly become a concubine–and not even THE mistress, just one of the girlfriends. Lord, help me.


  4. stephanie feagan
    Aug 02, 2007 @ 21:59:57

    And I thought my life was dysfunctional!
    Wow – that’s some righteous oversharing there. I agree with Sarah.

    You know, I’m almost certain I’ve seen this man speak, but I can’t remember where. NINC, maybe??? I also can’t recall what he looked like or what he said. Good God, what does this mean? Either I was napping, or he was boring, or I dreamed the whole thing.


  5. Robin
    Aug 02, 2007 @ 23:25:15

    If I were an English professor, I'd be really embarrassed and hasten to assure my students I'd never subject them to such intimate details of my life.

    IMO it’s a real violation of the authority of his position and of the professional boundary professors should maintain with their students, even adult grad students. If he has a few friends in the dept. who also happen to be students, share it with them, but otherwise it’s IMO an ethical breach.


  6. Sarah McCarty
    Aug 03, 2007 @ 04:53:03

    “And I cannot express my disappointment that in this day and age, a well-educated woman would willingly become a concubine-and not even THE mistress, just one of the girlfriends.”

    Yeah. There is that. Maybe I ought to give her my “I didn’t burn my bra for nothing” speech. It always makes my daughter think twice. *sighing*

    On a side note, don’t you find it amazing how young girls today are ignorant of how they got the rights they have and how recently they were acquired?


  7. stephanie feagan
    Aug 03, 2007 @ 10:12:17

    Sarah, have you seen Mad Men on AMC? My husband watches it and I’ve caught a bit of it as well. Set in the early 60s, it details the lives of some ad execs in NY, as well as the secretaries. It’s depressing, but I told Mike, I hope young women watch this so they really get how far we’ve come. We’ve still got a long way to go, and forces are seemingly at work to turn back the clock. That’s why, to me, it’s so important for the younger generation to understand how slippery the slope can be.


  8. Nora Roberts
    Aug 03, 2007 @ 11:54:43

    ~If I were an English professor, I'd be really embarrassed and hasten to assure my students I'd never subject them to such intimate details of my life.~

    God no.

    ~IMO it's a real violation of the authority of his position and of the professional boundary professors should maintain with their students, even adult grad students. If he has a few friends in the dept. who also happen to be students, share it with them, but otherwise it's IMO an ethical breach.~

    Oh boy, jeez, I am again in complete agreement with Robin. We must brace for the potential natural disaster.


  9. Robin
    Aug 03, 2007 @ 12:23:42

    Oh boy, jeez, I am again in complete agreement with Robin. We must brace for the potential natural disaster.

    Robin scrambles to find out how close the house is to a fault line. Oh, god, look at all those tall, heavy trees around the house and the car.


  10. Ann Aguirre
    Aug 03, 2007 @ 12:42:07

    Wow, that’s quite a faux pas. I can’t imagine why he thought it was appropriate to share that with a class. Does he think he’s Henry James?
    But unless I’m mistaken, he didn’t circulate those letters in a university classroom. However unique or scandalous it may be, it’s a mistake for a professor to allow his personal life to take center stage.

    I put forth that such a dearth of discretion can be attributed to modern society in general. We concede basic privacies that would’ve shocked people thirty years ago. Between Google Earth, people being chipped for security purposes at work, data-mining Internet adware, and reality shows that think nothing of televising the most intimate of details, we have developed what I call The Cult of Oversharing.

    It doesn’t occur to folks to censor like they used to. We’re accustomed to the media telling us that “people have a right to know” and we’ve all but forgotten an older adage related to the right to privacy. This concerns me, and opens questions regarding what it means to be a public figure, like an author, singer, actor or other entertainer. Because I put books out for public consumption does this mean people deserve to know everything about me? Sift through my life as if panning for gold in a river bed? I sincerely hope not. Though I want to be seen as friendly and approachable, I don’t want to join the cadre of folks who think nothing of talking about their sex lives on their blog, as if readers care or have some vested interest in such things.


  11. Robin
    Aug 03, 2007 @ 13:47:14

    But unless I'm mistaken, he didn't circulate those letters in a university classroom.

    I don’t think that lessens the ethical breach, though, especially as it pertains to grad students, who conduct much of their academic contact with faculty outside the classroom (along with any “extra-curricular” activities that might raise some eyebrows). Having spent basically my whole adult life in an academic environment, I know those boundaries are sometimes difficult to negotiate, especially when true friendships really do spring up between faculty and adult students. But having been on both sides of that authority divide, I think it’s up to the professor to maintain appropriate boundaries, and that publicly inflicting the contents of that letter on students of any age or position in the university was, at the very least, a breach of Butler’s wife’s privacy. Because IMO it’s something that can and will affect the learning environment and the academic relationship between Butler and his students, which is the yardstick by which I tend to measure these things. I remember my senior year in college, sitting next to a student in one of my lit classes (she was a few years older than I was), trying to get past the fact that she was engaged to the 60-some year old professor. It really affected my respect for his integrity as a teacher. I have even more scandalous memories of stuff I heard and saw in my grad school years, and those incidents have stuck with me a long time. Professors have so much power over students, IMO, in both positive and negative ways. And students are often looking for validation from their teachers in ways that can be twisted, too. I remember being practically propositioned by several students, especially when I was a new teacher, and boy did that make me conscious of every word, every conversation, every gesture I made to and in the presence of students.


  12. Sarah McCarty
    Aug 03, 2007 @ 15:37:43


    Mad Men-I only caught one episode. I’ve been trying to figure out it’s night and time since. Loved that episode.

    Girl child once told me that I’m old, and I have no idea of how life is the pressure, drugs, sex, etc. I told her get a grip, I grew up in the sixties. She didn’t know what that meant. I gave her a book and made her read up. She gave it back to me with only two words. “Damn it.” *G*
    It actually was a good moment because it opened communication. Hence when she said those colored bracelets girls wore meant nothing, the launch into the “I didn’t burn my bra for nothing speech” wasn’t a waste of time.

    She was truly shocked by how recently it was that women couldn’t attend certain colleges, couldn’t get into certain careers etc. In her mind that was like 200 years ago. I had my neighbor talk to her about being allowed to audit classes in college but not being able to get a grade because they didn’t allow women to do more than audit.

    That really made an impact because here was a human being she could talk to, who didn’t look ancient who had been impacted.

    Now, she’s becoming a little vigilante reading up on why women get paid less and the cultural issues that plays into that, legal decisions that can effect women etc.

    The discussion was also eye opening for me. I always beleived the woman’s movement was covered better in our schools.


  13. Nora Roberts
    Aug 03, 2007 @ 15:59:29

    The Cult of Oversharing. That’s a really good phrase.

    I don’t think people have a right to know everything. I’m pretty accessible, pretty friendly, but not about to share the personal details of my private life with the world.


  14. Janine
    Aug 03, 2007 @ 16:08:30

    Just to play devil’s advocate (because I don’t really disagree)… What about authors of memoirs and autobiographies? What if Butler decides to write a memoir of his marriage and divorce? Is that kind of “oversharing” more acceptable?


  15. stephanie feagan
    Aug 03, 2007 @ 20:42:10

    Good on you, Sarah. I have a special soapbox, just for this issue – and my girls see it coming when I pull it out and dust it off. :) I guess it made an impact of some kind – Baby Girl is majoring in Feminist Studies, with an eye on law school.

    I wanted to watch Mad Men, but couldn’t. I’m not ordinarily like that – squeamish I mean – but something about that show bugs the hell outta me. It’s well written, has excellent acting, and the producer is supposedly rabid about getting the details correct, making it as accurate as possible. Still, the way the women are portrayed, the things said to them and about them – it made me vaguely nauseous.

    As for the Cult of Oversharing – I’ll give a hearty amen to that. Maybe part of the blame can be attributed to the proliferation of grocery store rags, blaring about the last time Paris got laid, or what kind of soy milk Britney likes to drink, or whether Brad thinks Angie’s got what it takes in the sack. I stand in line and have a running thought in mind, over and over. “Who gives a shit?” I guess somebody must, or those magazines wouldn’t be there.

    My mother used to say, a little mystery about a person is a good thing. Never tell ‘em everything. Leave some things up to the imagination – it always plays much better than reality.


  16. Ann Aguirre
    Aug 04, 2007 @ 10:56:57

    Robin, I suspect I wasn’t clear.

    I said, “Does he think he’s Henry James?”, meaning that all and sundry would be interested in his tumultuous personal life. In the subsequent reference to letters, I meant the infamous literary love letters between James and Anais Nin. I don’t think he went into a classroom while the affair was going on, and told students all about it. So nothing I said was intended to defend the professor of an ethical breach.

    I know exactly what you’re talking about, as regards professorial conduct. I had a poetry prof whom I really admired. And then I learned he had married a girl just a year older than me, one of his former students! They often had students over to their house to hang out, and they owned a coffeeshop, where there were poetry readings. The lines blurred in ways I didn’t enjoy. He was a relic from the 60s, and their house was always full of kids drinking and smoking weed. I never saw him the same way after I went to my first party there.

    I don't think people have a right to know everything. I'm pretty accessible, pretty friendly, but not about to share the personal details of my private life with the world.

    I agree completely.


  17. Janine
    Aug 04, 2007 @ 12:36:44

    I once tried to read some of Nin’s jourals about her relationship with Henry Miller and his wife, and couldn’t get very far. Needless to say I think Anais Nin’s is another one whose personal life wasn’t as fascinating as she apparently thought it was.


  18. Robin
    Aug 05, 2007 @ 12:10:22

    Ann, lol, thanks for explaining; now I understand what you were referencing!

    You know, I’m not even turned off by the overshare so much, because I do think that there’s a certain culture of personal experience in university writing programs that fosters a different view of one’s personal life. But what really disturbed me was the idea that students were being put in the position of formal interpreters and defenders of Butler’s sordid little tale — that they were being explicitly asked to correct any perceptions and to basically, weirdly, legitimate something completely outside their role as students. That just seems like an abuse of power on Butler’s part to me, asking students to basically defend and explain what at best is a very unusual situation, making them party to the whole mess.


  19. Ann Nonymous
    Aug 09, 2007 @ 12:13:02

    “The Cult of Oversharing” sounds just right. I used to be at FSU, and still know people there, hence the anonymity. “Oversharing” has become a practice among some of the faculty and their students. Yes, they *must* share “every fart that’s let in their personal lives,” along with any new, half-baked idea that occurred to them either in a dream or a haze of pot smoke. It is (or should be ) not only embarrassing to the individual, but also has the effect of making any kind of discourse trivial. If everyone is accustomed to communiques from colleagues or those in power being poorly edited blather, it’s simply exhausting and demoralizing. Should we not expect better from people who are supposed to be masters of the written word?

    It does not help that, as Robin wrote, certain theories witin writing programs encourage this kind of disclosure, calling it reportage of the “truth,” rather than a violation of professional boundaries. Unfortunately, it’s not exclusive to the Writing side of English departments.


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