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 (as a teen I was a frequent high school dropout who only went back to school and graduated because I thought Miskatonic University was real and I wanted to go there), 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 special guest speakers Victor LaValle, Matt Ruff and more TBD.