23 Aug Necronomicon 2015
I have survived the Necronomicon 2015 in Providence. It was a lovely convention, lots of stuff to do, and I appreciated very much the academic talks.
I’ve been asked (over and over again) why I’m interested in Lovecraft since he is so problematic. Nick Mamatas pretty much nails the answer in his essay “Why Write Lovecraftian Fiction?” which concludes:
“We read Lovecraft’s work and write Lovecraftian fiction, but we don’t side with his sallow protagonists and their nervous fits-we see ourselves in the glory of the Outsider Things.”
That’s my reaction, too.
Lovecraft was almost pathologically racist, brimming with biological anxieties which found their way into his stories. Even when he’s not afraid of other races, I would say he is afraid of genetic inferiors, constantly consumed with thoughts about degeneration, about lineages and disease.
He was also, despite seeming a bit of a weirdo, very kind to people around him. I just read the recently discovered collection of letters to Zealia Brown Reed Bishop, who hired him to revise her stories. In these letters we can see him comforting Zealia when someone close to her dies, asking about her family, suggesting she might want to throw some work to a friend of his who desperately needs the money, offering copious free writing advice.
And yet next to this portrait of this man who is very kind to some people there come the copious notes I keep (I think it’s 10 pages single-spaced and if you are wondering why I keep this, my thesis work revolves around eugenics and Lovecraft’s tales) of racist quotes which appear in his letters. I’m not talking about one poem about a cat as some people try to make it out to be, a LOT of quotes from different years. That’s not even taking into consideration the expression of his racists thoughts in his stories, like in “The Horror at Red Hook.”
People who try to defend Lovecraft by saying his racism got a wee bit better (it didn’t, not if you read Joshi’s work on him), who got angry about the statuette bearing his image being changed, are reacting not only in anger because they love his writing, but because they see the ‘nice’ side of HPL. They think you are kicking a friend.
Of course, HPL was no friend of any of us. He is quite dead.
The nicest thing about Lovecraft really was his generosity. He was generous with his advice to other writers and generous by sharing his stories, his writing universe. Those who think themselves “friends” of Lovecraft should embrace this spirit of generosity by attempting to find, welcome and support the work of more creators who are people of color.
How this happens is, of course, probably a long process. I think one way is to expand the focus of something like Necronomicon (and this was already happening a bit this time around) to include more content relating to that big,amorphous category called The Weird. It is probably easier to find people of color, for one, who can speak to topics that might fall under this umbrella than under the narrower umbrella of just Lovecraft.
Panels which focus on the work of creators such as Guillermo del Toro or discuss the translation of works like Albert Sánchez Piñol’s Cold Skin can potentially attract more scholars and creators of color, as well as expand the type of programming available. I was very happy to see Chesya Burke in the TOC of Cassilda’s Song, and I’m sure she could talk if not about Lovecraft, then about Weird fiction.
The other thing which may assist conventions is ditching the panel format for certain discussions. Speculative fiction is in love with the panel, but for certain discussions — for example discussions of race, racism and identity — I believe round tables and other formats are more appropriate. Sometimes it may be better to have only two people having a discussion or interview rather than a panel. This is especially advisable when you have a smaller pool of speakers so that discussions do not end up becoming one woman and five men (or no women, in extreme examples) talking together about Women and Writing, for example.
Small budgets may limit the attendance capabilities of a convention, but it would be advisable to seek short essays and commentary from POC which could be printed or hosted online, so that even when not everyone can be flown in, their presence makes its way to the conference in some manner.
In short, I am interested in seeing more POC at such events and I think it’s especially important Necronomicon bring more in for obvious reasons. This year we had an hour of readings in Spanish and I met half a dozen Hispanic and Latin American people through that little reading session, so I wasn’t the only POC walking around Providence, nor are the TOCs of all Lovecraftian anthologies lacking completely in a POC presence since I myself have published and others have published POCs (Nadia Bulkin also makes an appearance in Cassilda’s Song, along Burke). Still, it’s a small presence.
So if Necronomicon 2017 takes place I hereby promise to plunk down $500 to help bring a writer of colour to speak at the convention. I think it’s fair because they flew me in and also because my career is right now doing okay and I should probably give back. Call me, Niels.
I hope the rest of you will assist in any way you can to foster a sense of inclusion and generosity in Weird fiction. If we want to talk about Lovecraft’s legacy, generosity is probably the best legacy he could ever leave behind, not just Cthulhu dolls and fun paraphernalia.