December 25   So, about Lovecraft

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I, like Nnedi Okorafor now have a bust of an antisemitic, misogynist, racist in my house.

She made the above post a week ago and until then, I actually knew very little about H. P. Lovecraft (maybe that’s the most scandalous thing I’m going to write in this post). Reading that post was the first I ‘d heard that this figure was deeply repugnant as a human, really. I’ve never really been that interested in his work and truthfully, I’m not going to give myself a hard time about that anymore.

It’s hard to move past some of the things I’ve since read that he wrote about … well, about people like me, among others. And I’ve spent a week ruminating on it all. Should I say something? Do I have to say something? What should I say? What’s appropriate to say? How do I feel about it? How should I feel about it? What should I do with the bust of this person now? Is it appropriate to have this person’s face out on display in my home?

In the end, I didn’t feel it was ok to be silent and just sidle past – never mind the Jewish girl with the H P Lovecraft bust on display. Move along, nothing to see here.

After a week of thinking about it, I haven’t moved the bust from its current position and I don’t feel any less honoured to have received it. I have, though, thought a lot about how nice it must be not to have to worry about such dilemmas. And I’ve thought about the word privilege a lot and what that means and feels (to not have it). But mostly I’ve really really really enjoyed the fact that H P Lovecraft would have hated the idea that I, and others who won the World Fantasy Award this year (and in other years), you know, did.  And I’ve thought about how really, that is the best outcome. You know, she who laughs last etc.

China Miéville has his Lovecraft head turned to the wall, like a naughty boy, so he can write behind his back. But I don’t want to continue doing what I’m doing with Twelfth Planet Press behind Lovecraft’s back. I want to do it in front of his face, all proud and unapologetically. My success disproves his beliefs.

I don’t like the argument along the lines of the statue transcends its resemblance of Lovecraft to now represent the award (more than representing the man it’s fashioned in likeness of). I mean, in some ways it does – it has done for me until last week, given I didn’t actually know much about the man. But it doesn’t hold for me as strong argument because if I took that to an extreme place, there’s no way I would want to display an award for any cool thing if its trophy was the face of Hitler. At some point, you can’t look beyond the face to what the trophy represents without the face influencing the meaning.

Ultimately, I’m deeply honoured to have been awarded a World Fantasy Award. And I’m also proud that the nominees and the winners are diverse – more diverse than Lovecraft would ever have liked or perhaps envisaged – and demonstrate that the membership and judges of the award do not support or condone his politics. And as for me, I find strength in knowing I am alive and doing ok when I think about men like Lovecraft and Hitler who have wished me dead or that I never existed at all. It makes me strive harder. And that’s never a bad thing.

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  • By Flinthart on 25 December 2011 at 5:15 pm

    It’s a problem, innit?

    Socially, the guy was a loser. As a writer, his work ranged from a little better than mediocre to almost unreadable. (Although to be fair, it was highly individual and very recognisable.) What he did have were fascinating, compelling ideas.

    And yet some of his other ideas were completely wrong-headed and repellent.

    It’s tempting to suggest that in a modern world, he might not have been such a bigot. Who knows? But tempting or not, it’s irrelevant. A modern HPL might, for all we know, be even more bigoted.

    I think at some point, we have to distinguish between the inheritance of the man, and the man himself, with his flaws. The stuff Lovecraft dreamed up has played an enormous part in the development of modern fantasy and horror – but modern fantasy and horror seems no more bigoted and prejudiced for all that.

    I guess HPL might not have been my choice of figurehead. But since he got the guernsey, it seems reasonable to respect the good work, while recalling that the man was flawed; because ain’t none of us perfect, and if we cannot all become icons of the industry, we can at least try to improve on who we are.

  • By Anna Tambour on 29 December 2011 at 2:20 pm

    Highly recommended, this story by Marc Laidlaw.

    “The Boy Who Followed Lovecraft”, in Winter 2011 Subterranean Magazine.

  • By AlisaK on 29 December 2011 at 3:02 pm

    Oh yes I read that for LSS. Thanks for the reminder.

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