Robert E. Bell was born and grew up in Tarrant City, Ala. He read extensively as a child and became interested in writing when he was in high school. He enrolled at Birmingham-Southern College (BSC) in 1944 but interrupted his studies to serve in the US Army. After his service was complete, Bell returned to BSC. He majored in English and worked part time at the Birmingham Public Library. In 1947, Bell's family moved to Fairhope, Ala., but he continued his studies at BSC, graduating in 1950 with a BA in English. He received a scholarship to study at Harvard University and spent a year in Cambridge, Mass., earning an AM in English in 1952. Bell worked at the Mobile Public Library from 1951 to 1955. He also continued his education, studying library science at Columbia University in the summer of 1952 and at Louisiana State University in the summer of 1953. Bell began working on a novel set in Fairhope while he was commuting from there to his job in Mobile. In 1955, Bell moved to Fort Worth, Texas, where he became the assistant director of the Fort Worth Public Library and finished his Fairhope novel. The Butterfly Tree was published in 1959 with a cover designed by artist Andy Warhol.
In 1960, Bell moved to San Francisco where he served as executive director of the Book Club of California for two years. He and a partner opened book shops in San Francisco and New Orleans in 1962. The following year, he returned to Mobile to become the head of adult services at the Mobile Public Library. In 1965, Bell moved to New Orleans where he worked for the New Orleans Public Library. A year later, he resigned and resumed his studies in library science at LSU. After earning his master's degree in 1967, Bell moved back to San Francisco and enrolled in a doctoral program at University of California Berkeley. While working on his degree, he also taught for several years at the University of South Carolina in Columbia. After finishing his PhD in 1974, Bell taught at UC Berkeley and worked as a reference librarian at the City College of San Francisco. In 1976, he became a librarian at University of California Davis. At UC Davis, Bell wrote three respected reference works on classical mythology. After his retirement in 1991, he resumed writing fiction although his novels were never published. In the mid-1990s, Bell began corresponding with Fairhope resident Mary Lois Timbes. She published some of their letters in the collection Meet Me at the Butterfly Tree in 2001, two years after Bell's death.
Robert E. Bell's novel The Butterfly Tree is a coming-of-age story set in a fictional version of Fairhope, Ala., in the mid-Twentieth Century.
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Last updated on Oct 16, 2009.