Richard Kostelanetz writes:
“I have been writing literary essays for nearly fifty years now. Since most of them appeared in modestly circulated periodicals, it becomes necessary for me to collect the most valuable of them into books. Earlier collections have been devoted to essays on poetry, fiction, visual art, music, culture, performance, and politics. Composed mostly of previously uncollected literary essays, written over the past quarter century, A Person of Letters in the Contemporary World becomes the first to emphasize literature and literary life in general.
Since I am a contemporary writer, expanding my practice into the twenty-first century, it is scarcely surprising that my sense of literature, as both a creator and a critic, includes criticism of writing in new media, such as audio and video. Most of the essays reflect the theme announced in the title, dealing as they do in various ways with the experience of being independent in the age of affiliation, a writer in more than one genre in an age of specialists, a radical among conservatives who has been consciously avant-garde at a time when innovation was proclaimed impossible, and a literary artist attuned to possibilities offered by new technologies. Since my activity reportedly reflects integrity at various levels, other recurring themes will no doubt become apparent.
In my essays, as in my career, I’ve tried to go beyond–above and sometimes below—what others have done, especially in appreciating what others miss, dismissing what is commonly praised, and in telling truths about literary politics. Lacking power or a secure position, I wouldn’t have survived had I attempted anything less. I’ve also learned that I’ve written not a single work commonly praised above all others but many texts that one or another reader finds especially valuable. ”