Or they'll say,"poet." Or "screenwriter." All of this speaks to the natural, inevitable and annoying human tendency to oversimplify people and things (or any phenomenon) to make them manageable. But a polymorphous creator doesn't want, of course, to see any of his children slighted or ignored. (However, that's a situation he or she may simply have to learn to live with.) A sort of ars poetica statement I was asked to write for the Academy of Arts and Letters when I received their Academy Award in Literature in 2002 best expresses, metaphorically, how I see this situation in respect to my own body of work. Here is a slightly abbreviated version of that statement:
"I see my body of work as being like a mansion with many rooms. The foundation for the mansion is the novel Oxherding Tale. Inside this imaginative “house” are rooms you can wander through or dwell in for awhile. One has novels. Another has short fiction. A third has 295 interviews from radio and television, in newspapers, and scholarly journals. In the fourth you’ll find screen-and-teleplays. A fifth has philosophical essays such as “Reading the Eightfold Path.” A sub-room of that has essays on many subjects---on Indonesia, how to draw political cartoons,the craft of storytelling, a pedagogy for writing workshops, the history of black cartoonists, an overview of black literature since the Harlem Renaissance, film critiques, and critical appreciations of many writers. Yet another room is devoted to book reviews. Other rooms have editorial and panel cartoons, comic strips, texts for studio photo books, and many public addresses and lectures. On and on through this house, from the basement to the attic, you’ll find prose and visual art in numerous aesthetic forms (the slave narrative, the sea adventure story, the folktale, the animal fable, the fabliau, and political novel). There is fiction and non-fiction on the martial arts, affirmative-action, “exchange value,” Dr. Martin Luther King’s refrigerator, and a future in which the government taxes people’s dreams as well as traditional fables and parables in a sub-room of the bigger room devoted to short stories. This is my conception of what a total body of work should be, one that is evolved over a lifetime, is generous in form and content, and offers a variety of different aesthetic experiences."