British English professor Richard Canning’s anthology Vital Signs: Essential AIDS Fiction ($16, Avalon Publishing Group) rediscovers 18 gems from the era of early AIDS. The tales transport readers to the ’80s and mid ’90s—when “manageable disease” was not part of the AIDS lexicon. With such heavyweight writers as Andrew Holleran and Dale Peck, Vital Signs is required reading, especially for the growing younger generation of newly infected. Still, we had a question or two for the professor.

POZ: Might readers associate Vital Signs with death?
Richard Canning: Fear, death and darkness were all part of this period and this collection, but those are not the only things on the table. These stories are also uplifting and vibrant and really illuminate life.

POZ: Why fiction and not real-life stories?
Canning: With memoir there can be a duty [to be] appropriate, particularly if there’s a memorial aspect—which in the early years, invariably there was. But fiction, although very close to real life, is pure imagination and can dare a lot of things that nonfiction cannot.