When I look back over the past half-century, it’s evident that my life has been drenched in literature.
I started early, from the first gravitating toward fiction and poetry. I devoured the stories of Edgar Allan Poe at age nine or ten, and soon thereafter composed a brief, gruesome collection of tales in desperate emulation of my first literary idol. (“Couldn’t you write something a bit more . . . cheerful?” my mother asked.) During my teenage years I discovered writers as disparate as F. Scott Fitzgerald, John Steinbeck, and Flannery O’Connor; and in poetry, the endlessly fascinating if sometimes incomprehensible Emily Dickinson. In college and graduate school, thanks to my English and Creative Writing professors, I read the great American writers of the twentieth century, including William Faulkner, John Updike, Philip Roth, Sylvia Plath, and Joyce Carol Oates.
There was never a time when I didn’t take writing seriously. My undergraduate major at Southern Methodist University was English, but I spent as much time struggling with my fiction as I did reading Middlemarch and Moby-Dick. I took creative writing workshops semester after semester. Each year, the English Department sponsored a creative writing contest, and it was one of the highlights of my senior year when I won first prize for one of my short stories. A bit later, another story was reprinted in Prize Stories: The O. Henry Awards.
The summer I graduated, I began my first novel; several of its chapters were published as short stories in Southwest Review, South Carolina Review, and elsewhere. I had moved to Atlanta to attend graduate school at Emory University, where I studied American literature and continued to publish stories, in addition to poems and reviews, in an array of literary magazines. After completing my Ph.D., I embarked on a teaching career, but in retrospect I must admit that writing always came first. My first collection of stories, Distant Friends, won the Georgia Author of the Year award, as did a third collection, I Am Dangerous. My first novel, Pagan Babies, was widely and positively reviewed, and was optioned by Miramax Studios (though the film was never made). A second novel, Sticky Kisses, earned good reviews as well, in addition to “blurbs” from Edmund White and David Ebershoff.
I was thrilled when Regal House decided to publish my third novel, Night Journey, which is my favorite among my twelve books, and I was beyond thrilled when Joyce Carol Oates offered a quote praising the novel.
In addition to fiction, I had published volumes of poetry, biography, and literary criticism along the way. I had remained an inveterate reader, and have published more than three hundred book reviews in such papers as The New York Times Book Review, Washington Post Book World, and the Atlanta Journal Constitution; and in such magazines as Yale Review, The Georgia Review and Virginia Quarterly Review.
But genre didn’t seem to matter; what mattered is that I was writing. (And when not writing, I was reading.) It has been, and will continue to be, a literary life. I wouldn’t have chosen any other.