Our school, Miskatonic, is named after the fictional University that appears throughout the work of early 20th-century horror writer H.P. Lovecraft. Though there is a personal reason for this, the decision to name our school after anything related to a horror writer now widely known to be a racist is frequently questioned.
There is no denying that H.P Lovecraft was a racist. In his earliest years as a writer, he was an outright white supremacist, later supposedly softened into a cultural elitist. Though racism was not uncommon in his day, and some have argued that this excuses his attitudes, his racism and xenophobia was especially vehement, even for his time. These attitudes are directly apparent not only in an infamous 1912 poem denigrating those of African descent but in journal entries and personal correspondences, as well as indirectly discernable through allegorical descriptions of non-human races in his fiction. This latter point is the most tricky, as it is not discernible to everyone (sometimes a fish-person is just a fish-person) and this has on occasion made fans of his work defensive when it comes to this line of questioning.
Often held as Lovecraft’s most racist horror story, The Horror at Red Hook was addressed, revised and reclaimed by writer Victor LaValle in his brilliant, multiple award-winning novella The Ballad of Black Tom in 2016, which reconfigures the perspective of the story to that of African American protagonist Charles Thomas Tester, which Locus magazine praised for “co-opting Lovecraft’s epic-scale paranoia into the service of a trickster tale.”
The same year saw the release of Matt Ruff’s novel Lovecraft Country – currently in production as an HBO series with Jordan Peele and JJ Abrams – which similarly explores issues of race in Lovecraft’s work through its tale of an African American science fiction fan named Atticus Turner, traversing through New England during the heyday of the Jim Crow laws in search of his missing father.
The release of both of these books prompted renewed questioning into the legacy of Lovecraft’s fiction for a legion of fans and fellow writers who have found magic in his Mythos and Cosmic Horror, easily one of the most influential strands of horror in literary history. But does Lovecraft’s racism overshadow his incredible contributions to the field? Should Lovecraft be demoted in the pantheon of horror writers based on his personal ideologies? Can people of those races and ethnicities Lovecraft directed hate towards still find value his work?
Come join us as we hash it out Town Hall-style, with our special guest speakers, Lovecraft scholar Peter H. Cannon and authors Victor LaValle, Matt Ruff and Ruthanna Emrys – whose debut novel Winter Tide (2017) was called “A mythos yarn that totally reverses the polarity on Lovecraft’s xeophobia, so that in the end, the only real monsters are human beings.” The panel will be moderated by author and festival programmer Rodney Perkins.
Matt Ruff was born in New York City in 1965. He is the award-winning author of six novels, including Fool on the Hill, Bad Monkeys, Set This House in Order, The Mirage, and Sewer, Gas & Electric. His most recent novel, Lovecraft Country, tells the story of two black families fighting both supernatural horrors and the more mundane terrors of racism in Jim Crow-era America. Lovecraft Country is being adapted as an HBO series by Jordan Peele, Misha Green, and J.J. Abrams. Author Photo by Lisa Gold.
Peter Cannon is a senior editor at Publishers Weekly, where he assigns and edits the reviews in the Mystery/Thriller category. He’s the author of H. P. Lovecraft, a critical study; Sunset Terrace Imagery in Lovecraft, an essay collection; The Chronology out of Time: Dates in the Fiction of H. P. Lovecraft; and Long Memories: Recollections of Frank Belknap Long, a memoir. He’s the editor of Lovecraft Remembered and the co-editor with S. T. Joshi of More Annotated Lovecraft. His fiction includes Pulptime, a novella in which Lovecraft meets Sherlock Holmes; Scream for Jeeves: A Parody, a mix of Lovecraft and Wodehouse; Forever Azathoth, a story collection; and The Lovecraft Chronicles, a novel in which Lovecraft dies in 1960 instead of 1937. He and his wife and three children live in New York City.
Rodney Perkins is a lawyer and writer who has been involved in the film and entertainment industry in various capacities for over a decade. Rodney has worked with film productions, film distributors, video game companies and other entertainment-related businesses. He is currently on the board of directors of the Miskatonic Institute of Horror. Rodney has held numerous positions at film festivals, including lead film programmer at Fantastic Fest and director of Fantastic Fest’s film market. Rodney’s website Dark Docs (darkdocs.net) is devoted to the outer edges of documentary film-making. Rodney is also the co-author of ‘Cosmic Suicide: The Tragedy and Transcendence of Heaven’s Gate.’ Rodney currently resides in Austin, Texas.
Ruthanna Emrys is the author of the Innsmouth Legacy series, including Winter Tide and Deep Roots. She also co-writes Tor.com’s Lovecraft Reread series with Anne M. Pillsworth, reviewing weird fiction from those who inspired Lovecraft to those reconstructing it today. She lives in a mysterious manor house on the outskirts of Washington, DC with her wife and their large, strange family. She makes home-made vanilla, gives unsolicited advice, and occasionally attempts to save the world.
Victor LaValle is the author of seven works of fiction and one graphic novel. His most recent novel, The Changeling, won the World Fantasy Award and the British World Fantasy Award in 2018. His novella, The Ballad of Black Tom, was a finalist for the Nebula, the Hugo, the World Fantasy Award and won a Shirley Jackson Award. He teaches creative writing at Columbia University and lives in New York City with his wife and children.
The Miskatonic Institute of Horror Studies – NYC – The Shadow Over Lovecraft: Interrogating H.P. Lovecraft’s Racismwill take place on April 16, 2019 from 7pm – 9pm at the Film Noir Cinema (122 Meserole, Greenpoint, Brooklyn). Tickets are $12 in advance, $15 at the door, or $50 for a full semester pass. Tickets, and additional information can be found at https://www.
miskatonicinstitute.com/ events/the-shadow-over- lovecraft-interrogating-h-p- lovecrafts-racism-nyc/.
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