I've wanted to write fiction as long as I've wanted to write poetry. The only course I've had in creative writing was an undergraduate short story workshop with H.E. Francis at Emory University. While I was in graduate school at Columbia, I met Edmund White. This was in 1966. Over the next few years, we discussed new novels and the classics and read each other chapters from works-in-progress. I wrote two novels which I never published. After I began publishing poetry (around 1972), I spent less time writing fiction. When my first book of poems came out in 1976, I put aside fiction writing for about ten years, but I never stopped reading novels, old and new, and the fact is that a good bit of the poetry I have written is narrative. By the same token, my fiction has been shaped my experience as a poet; I've brought as much attention to the rewriting of sentences and paragraphs as I would to the revision of poems. Yet I was determined not to write a 'poet's novel,' one where atmosphere and style drown out characterizations and plot. Flannery O'Connor once said that for her the most effective fiction was written when the author's dramatic sense was fused with the moral sense. Drama in fiction arises out of story, and story is conflict: the human spirit contending with various obstacles and adversaries. Story is the best teacher in fiction, much more effective than abstract reflection. In Part of His Story, the first-person narrator Avery interpolates reflections into the narrative, just as Proust's narrator in The Remembrance of Things Past. But these reflections have to be considered, before anything else, as part of the characterization, evidence of an analytic and ironic turn of mind. Still, these reflections do have content as such, and I find myself often-though not always-in agreement with Avery's thoughts. And I think readers, many of them, will also find themselves in agreement with him, since there's an Everyman aspect to his efforts to come to terms with suffering and death. After all, no one is immortal; we will all pay Nature's debt sooner or later. The AIDS epidemic has brought into sharp-terribly sharp-focus a universal dilemma: If I know that I will one day die, how should I live today?
Alfred Corn is a poet of international reputation. His most recent book of poems is Contradictions, published by Copper Canyon in 2002. Corn has also published a collection of critical essays, titled The Metamorphoses of Metaphor, and a book on versification titled The Poem's Heartbeat: A Manual of Prosody. His fellowships and awards for poetry include the Guggenheim, the NEA, and Awards in Literature from the Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters and the Academy of American Poets. Corn has taught at Yale, the University of Cincinnati, U.C.L.A., The Ohio State University, Columbia University, and the University of Tulsa. A frequent contributor to The New York Times Book Review, The Washington Post Book World, and The Nation, he also writes art criticism for Art in America and ARTnews magazine.