Alfred Corn

Alfred Corn has become one of his generation’s most accomplished literary artists since leaving his boyhood home in Valdosta, Georgia. A critically-acclaimed poet, a novelist, and a literary critic, Corn has built his body of work across an astonishing range of subjects personal, political, and artistic, drawing upon a wealth of intellect and curiosity limited neither by geography nor time.

Alfred DeWitt Corn III was born in a Bainbridge, Georgia, hospital, the third child and only son of Grace Lahey and A. D. Corn, Jr. His father was a lawyer who, during the Depression, went to work as an insurance agent in Donalsonville, Georgia. Corn’s mother, a graduate of the Valdosta State College for Women, kept house and cared for Corn and his sisters. While his father was serving in the U.S. Army Engineers in the Phillipines, his mother died of complications from a burst appendix and he and his sisters went to stay with relatives in Ray City, in Berrien County, Georgia. When his father was discharged from the military, the family resettled in Valdosta, his father’s hometown.

Corn excelled in Valdosta public schools and went to Emory University in Atlanta, where he earned a B.A. in French literature (1965). He did graduate study at Columbia University in New York City, where he earned an M.A. in 1967. Corn left Columbia before finishing his Ph.D., and he held short-term office jobs in New York and wrote free-lance for literary-cultural publications while he concentrated upon writing his own fiction and poetry. Corn’s poetry first appeared in print in the journals Saturday Review  and Poem in 1972, and other publications soon followed. In 1974 the Academy of American Poets awarded Corn its James Ingram Merrill prize, which enabled him to write poetry full-time, and in 1976 the Viking Press published his first volume of poetry, the critically praised All Roads At Once.   

Corn identifies himself as a Southern writer. Yet he only rarely writes about recognizably Southern themes, locations or subjects. Corn told an interviewer in 2005, “I tend to write about whatever is before me,” and visiting Georgia in his writing requires him to make a conscious decision to “go back down memory lane and write about those years in the South.” Among the instances where his poetry focuses specifically upon his Georgia childhood are Corn’s poems “The Outdoor Amphiteatre,”  “Getting Past the Past,” “Dreambooks,” “Stepson  Elegy,” “Sugar Cane,” and “A Goya Reproduction.”

Despite the rareness of Southern regionalism in his work, Corn strongly credits his art to the “forces that shaped me as a Southerner.” The language and culture of African-American Georgians, for instance; also the music of his Valdosta church choir and Bible readings, as well as the South’s notable appreciation for homegrown storytelling and wit. “I would also say that because I thought and read, I became aware of the injustices that were prevalent in racism and also of some of the special difficulties Southern women faced, so I became ardently political. Perhaps I wouldn’t have if those issues weren’t posed so strongly in the region where I grew up.” He added,

One of the other things about being a Southern writer that’s affected me: the lushness of the vegetation, the flowering and fragrances in the air—that has contributed to my work. … The luxuriant potential of language appeals to me perhaps because of having grown up in the semitropical state of Georgia. You go from perception to sexual experience. Some people say that warm climates promote what Whitman called amativeness and that tropical peoples excel in that capacity. There may be something to it; I don’t know. I do know that Southerners are very sexual, and that’s going to affect your sense of language. Think how [Tennessee] Williams handled the subject in A Streetcar Named Desire.”[1]   

Corn has published twelve volumes of poetry, including Stake: Selected Poems, 1972–1992, a collection from the first two decades of his career. In 2016 and 2017 a bilingual collection of Corn's work was published in Spain and Mexico. Corn has also published two novels, a comparative guide to American and British English, and an acclaimed study of prosody. He frequently write critical articles on poetry and art for leading journals, and his book reviews have appeared in many periodicals including the New York Times Book ReviewThe NationThe New Republic, and ARTnews, and have been compiled in three collections of essays.

In 2011, London’s Pentameter Theatre premiered Lowell’s Bedlam, Corn’s first play, and in 2014 he won the international Andersen Prize, awarded for an original fairy tale.

Corn’s numerous awards include Poetry Foundation prizes, an Award in Literature from the Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, and a fellowship from the Academy of American Poets. For many years a teacher in the graduate writing program at Columbia University, he has held visiting posts at U.S. colleges including UCLA, the University of Cincinnati, the University of Tulsa, Oklahoma State, and Yale. He has taught and held fellowships at various universities in the United States, England, Mexico and Spain. In November 2015, he was a featured speaker at the grand opening of the Mu Xin Museum in Wuzhen, China.

Corn lives in Rhode Island and spends part of every year in the United Kingdom.

[1] Christopher Hennessy,  “Alfred Corn,” in Outside the Lines: Talking with Contemporary Gay Poets (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2005).

Photograph of Alfred Corn ©Miriam Berkley.



The following works by Alfred Corn are held by UGA’s Hargrett Library:

All Roads at Once. New York: Viking Press, 1976.

A Call in the Midst of the Crowd. New York: Viking Press, 1978.

The Various Light. New York: Viking Press, 1980.

Tongues on Trees.  New York: Parenthèse, 1981.

The New Life. New York: Albondocani Press, 1983.

The Metamorphoses of Metaphor. New York: Viking Press, 1987.

Navidad, St. Nicholas Avenue. New York: Albondocani Press, 1984.

Notes from a Child of Paradise. New York: Viking, 1984.

An Xmas Murder. New York: Sea Cliff Press, 1987.

The West Door. New York : Viking, 1988.

Autobiographies: Poems. New York : Viking, 1992.

Present. Washington, D.C.: Counterpoint, 1997.

Part of His Story. Minneapolis: Mid-List, 1997.

The Poem's Heartbeat. Brownsville, OR: Story Line, 1997.

Stake: Poems, 1972-1992. Washington, D.C.: , Counterpoint, 1999.

Aaron Rose: Photographs. (Essayist and interviewer) NY:  Abrams, 2001.

Contradictions. Port Townsend, WA: Copper Canyon Press, 2002.

The Poem's Heartbeat. Port Townsend, WA: Copper Canyon Press, 2008.

Unions. New York : Barrow Street Press, 2014.

Miranda's Book. London: Eyewear Publishing, 2014

In addition, the Hargrett Library’s “Alfred Corn Collection” includes more than fifty individual periodicals containing poems or critical reviews by the author, dating from 1972.

Manuscript Holdings

Yale University's Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library holds the papers of Alfred Corn, including the author's manuscripts, photographs, and correspondence.