S.T. Joshi Is Mad as Hell

S.T. Joshi Is Mad as Hell

H.P. Lovecraft in Brooklyn, 1922.
H.P. Lovecraft in Brooklyn, 1922.

Lovecraft biographer and anthologist S.T. Joshi has lost his cool air over the World Fantasy Convention’s decision to remodel their awards:

HP Lovecraft’s biographer ST Joshi has returned his two World Fantasy awards following the organisers’ decision to stop using a bust of the author for the annual trophy – a move the Lovecraft expert called “a craven yielding to the worst sort of political correctness”.

The change was announced on Sunday. It follows a year-long campaign led by the author Daniel José Older, who launched a petition calling for the awards to end their trophy’s association with “avowed racist” Lovecraft.

You don’t have Joshi to kick around any more, because, gentlemen, this is his last WFC. Writing to WFC co-chairman David G. Hartwell, Joshi said:

Please make sure that I am not nominated for any future World Fantasy Award. I will not accept the award if it is bestowed upon me.

I will never attend another World Fantasy Convention as long as I live. And I will do everything in my power to urge a boycott of the World Fantasy Convention among my many friends and colleagues.

Debate over Lovecraft’s racism — and let’s face it, he was a racist, and even if it blunted in his later years, he was never going to join the ACLU — generally falls into two camps: that he and his views were products of his times; or that his beliefs were particularly venomous even for the era. As usual with truth, I think it’s somewhere in the middle. Lovecraft was a naive shut-in, his head a Gordian knot of neuroses. No one will argue that Lovecraft was a well-adjusted individual; from sex to seafood, a psychiatrist would have worn out an IKEA’s worth of sofas itemizing a complete list of the man’s phobias. I contend those same anxieties are precisely what make Lovecraft’s writing so much fun. If his racism was more vile than that of his neighbors and contemporaries, then it originated in that same pool of existential paranoia from which only madmen sip. It was part and parcel with his oversensitivity to smells, his finicky eating habits, and all the rest. H.P. Lovecraft may have been a genius. He was also crazy.

Having said that, I often worry that scolding Lovecraft too harshly is to rub Vaseline on the lens through which we view early 20th-century America. For this country, those first three decades were a period of peak racism in a Himalayan history. The 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson decision, by which SCOTUS granted the South carte blanche to do their worst, was the tamping of the soil upon Reconstruction’s grave; and 1915 saw the rebirth of the Klan, though this time with a more anti-Catholic, anti-immigrant bent, attracting millions of members in the 1920s. The nativism of the 19th century — which shows no signs of abating in 2015 — came to full bloom, with passage of the 18th Amendment and the Volstead Act (which was intended in large part to circumscribe Irish, Italian, and other immigrants) being its greatest successes. Somebody at this year’s NecronomiCon described Lovecraft as the last of the Victorian gentleman scientists, a man who had the leisure time to read journals and magazines about science and new discoveries and contemplate their repercussions. Alas, this was also a high time of pseudoscience, of theories about genetic memory and phrenology and racial traits; they are recurring topics in letters between Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard, both of whom read widely on the subjects and included them in their stories. To say Lovecraft lived in racist times and channeled them through his writing is not to apologize for him so much as it is to confront our not-very-distant past.

Awards are detestable things. They do nothing but delineate in-group/out-group borders, foster cliquism, and shovel coal into the firebox of vanity. They are illustrative of the Buddha’s maxim that desire is the root of all suffering: it is only because people want the Hugos and the WFAs to be one thing and not another that so much distress, spite, and frustration result. Joshi’s anger is simply an equal and opposite reaction to the same anger behind the removal of HPL from the award statuettes. If nobody cared, everyone would shrug their shoulders and go back to reading and writing and living; but instead, both sides churn and froth because they desire a thing, and specifically they desire it to be what they want and not what it might be to somebody else. This, for me, was the beauty of the Hugo controversy: everybody got exactly what they deserved because the sum of the pain was precisely what they had put into it.

I’m not worried about Lovecraft’s legacy. I think every attendee at this year’s NecronomiCon was well aware of his full bibliography, including a certain 1912 poem, and had made their separate peace with it. We’re living in a golden age of literature, TV, film, and video games, with such abundance that any one of us can only absorb but a small percentage of it; and someone on some blog or in some article I read hoped that future NecronomiCons, while acknowledging Lovecraft’s influence, would resist ossifying into nostalgic affairs and instead focus on and celebrate contemporary weird writing and filmmaking and everything else because there’s plenty of it out there. I hope so too. Some of us don’t care about awards, so there’s nothing for us to be mad about.

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Martin Christopher


I really don’t have anything more to add or elaborate on.


Why does the content of H.P. Lovecraft’s character even matter regarding the award? While I don’t know anything really about the World Fantasy Convention (other than what this award used to look like), I’m assuming the award was in Lovecraft’s likeness to recognize his accomplishments in his craft.

While I agree with Kuhl in that I don’t really get obsessed with awards, I think the decision of the World Fantasy Convention is dumb. And it’s part of a recent trend to scrub historical iconography of anyone with the least taint of perceived racism.



Look at the petition that brought this about. It’s not Lovecraft’s character that is at question here. No, the people that have pushed to have not just his opinions, but his works repudiated also declared him to be a “a terrible wordsmith”.

I’m told that the change is supposedly to make the award “honor the recipients” rather than to honor Lovecraft, but this is another example where these sorts of people had to destroy the village in order to save it.

Good riddance to them.

John ONeill

The World Fantasy Committee made the right call in changing the awards.

I was initially resistant to the idea of a change, but I was swayed after Sofia Samatar won her award last year and accepted it with grace and humility, but shared just how uncomfortable it made her to receive an award with Lovecraft’s likeness. I spent the next few months educating myself on the extent of Lovecraft’s racism (it is appalling).

If the highest award our genre has to offer makes some of its recipients that uncomfortable, then it needs to go. Not because they are “trying to destroy a village,” or anything so histrionic. But because I don’t want a trophy that makes that many of our finest writers that uncomfortable.

It was time for it to go.

John ONeill

I deleted a comment on this thread for being insulting to people in our industry.

A reminder that this isn’t a public forum. It’s my personal blog. If you want to insult others, by all means carry on. But please don’t use my blog to do it. I delete those posts, and after the second one, I delete the account in question.

Thank you.

Martin Christopher

I probably wouldn’t want to accept an Orson Card Award either.

Major Wootton

Competing for trophies is a perennial human activity, and not obviously bad like so many of the other perennial human activities (e.g. stealing, lying, betraying, abusing, etc.).

In place of the “Howie” or Howard Phillips Lovecraft Award, how about the “Hopie,” the William Hope Hodgson Award? (I have the impression that he even went by “Hope Hodgson” or was thus known sometimes.) There was an author with a weird imagination for sure. And so far as I know there’s nothing in his background to cause offense. The influential and much-praised author of The House on the Borderland, The Night Land, “The Voice in the Night,” etc. seems a good choice for this organization, and I think could win a lot of support from people who liked Lovecraft and people who didn’t. So there’s my peace proposal.

Wild Ape

I commend Joshi for turning in his awards and turning his back on the “World” Fantasy Convention. I’m also delighted that they changed the award because the WFC doesn’t merit the likeness nor the prestige of the HP Lovecraft name. I find it ironic and somewhat amusing that they’ve merely replaced one form of racism with another and feel better about how much more enlightened they all are. Cthulu would be proud.

What is pleasing to see is that the stories that HP Lovecraft brought out have inspired many of the most talented writers. Lovecraft work inspired giants in his time and continues to do so in our time. I wonder how many writers flourished with the stories and the imagination that Lovecraft wrought.

Jackson, I like that you mentioned the history of the era. People of today have no grasp of that time period and cannot see beyond the lens of their own day nor do they have any sympathy for people who suffer insanity. Good work.



Joshi argues that this move by the World Fantasy Convention was precipitated by a small but vocal group. Assuming he is right that this is a small group pushing for this change, why do the offended sensibilities of these folks warrant the change?



Could I at least point out that I find it hypocritical that Sofia Samatar felt free to bash HPL but still accepted the award? And since I do see “Winner of … awards” on the covers of scifi/fantasy books to argue “This good author – buy!” there’s a $$$ motive behind it?

At least Joshi – as is the subject of this article – has the stones to flush his in protest. More said in praise to Joshi not bashing Sofia since no one can bear ‘insult’ these days.

And John, you said – “I spent the next few months educating myself on the extent of Lovecraft’s racism (it is appalling).”

With respect, John, you . did . not . know???? Really?

Of the “Trinity” of classic Weird Tales, Lovecraft was – by FAR – the most racist, even considering his time. RES and CAS used some stereotypical characters of course. Those two, especially REH get knocked for racism more – but HPL was the racist there. Like how about Herbert West, Re-animator where a black man gets the serum and is going on four legs and howling at the moon? Or the stereotyping in his best known story “The Call of Cthulhu”?

John, I won’t “Insult” you but HPL’s quite open racism should be common knowledge for anyone interested strongly in science fiction and fantasy, especially with any love of the “Pulp” genre that all the modern stuff owe their foundation to.

It’s your blog, you can ban posts and people all you want – but removing HPL from the World Fantasy Award will do a lot of damage to the industry – jabbing core members in the eye to appeal to a broader base that probably won’t buy in numbers to replace them – kind of like how I have argued the market imploded itself a while back over. It’ll give the “Puppies” a huge tank of Bolognium infused rocket fuel, let me add.


“Could I at least point out that I find it hypocritical that Sofia Samatar felt free to bash HPL but still accepted the award?”

As far as I know, H. P. Lovecraft did not give her the award, nor is it called the H. P. Lovecraft award. It is meant to honor the recipient of the award, not H.P. Lovecraft, so I’m not sure of the charge of hypocrisy.
The fact that it bore his likeness is due to the fact that the first time it was given was in Providence, and the people who chose the award in the 40s were his fans. I don’t think that is sufficient reason by itself to keep it exactly that way forever, given that 1) the definition of “fantasy” nowadays includes Lovecraft’s horror as only a subset, 2) the bust looked like ass, 3)the “small but vocal group” that someone complained were the ONLY PEOPLE who had a problem with it included both nominees and recipients for the award. Since the award is intended to honor fantasy writers, I do think the intended honorees’ voice is important.

“And it’s part of a recent trend to scrub historical iconography of anyone with the least taint of perceived racism.”

Beg your pardon, but H. P. Lovecraft’s racism did not amount to the “least taint.” I was aware of it long before I ever read any of his letters and poems – it is baked into the canon of his literary work for all to read. No one is scrubbing his work from the canon – anyone is free to read it still. But it’s “The World Fantasy Award” and so it’s supposed to encompass the huge range of the works of Tolkien, Dunsany and its mythological roots all the way to the present day. So I think it is better to have an award that ACTUALLY symbolizes that broad range (preferably a nonhuman symbol) rather than stick to the caricatured likeness of a single author mostly identified with the subset “horror” in fantasy, whose immortal reputation is based on stories that frequently use xenophobia and racism to heighten the effect of their horror and which offend many of the recipients it is intended to honor.



Maybe I’m generalizing too much from limited information, but it seems to me that “world” in a number of award contexts really represents a limited faction with a particular political viewpoint. My point about the bust/award, is that it’s an award in recognition of the quality of the craft of writing and thus, the content of the character of the person whose image is used as the representation is irrelevant. Except to those who make it so–I would agree with Joshi that this is capitulation to political correctness (which seeks to emblazon anything as taboo that fails to agree with certain precepts). And I think you’re wrong about the bust. I like how creepy it looks. I also am skeptical of your claims about Lovecraft’s racism permeating his stories. Xenophobia maybe, but racism (they’re not one and the same)? But I’ll defer on that one, because I’ve only read a rather small subset of his stories. I tend to pull out the one collection of his that I have around Halloween and read a new story. I just read “The Shadow Over Innsmouth” this year. Loved it!


To Jayn,

Even though I’m into REH and CAS more – also Lord Dunsany whom HPL was a rabid fanboy of – I would be for HPL having the imagery of the award.

First, Lovecraft’s works were truly “A step Beoyond” to use a term from Heavy Metal – he transcended horror and fantasy. CAS was more “Out there” and REH a better writer and more prolific but HPL sailed that fancy white ship in search of Cathuria…

Also, HPL was a far better letter writer than a short story writer. It’s estimated he wrote 100,000 letters – by HAND also I think… By Cthulhu I wonder what would have happened if he had the internet today….

However, his correspondence with other writers lead to another expansion of the story concept – the “Shared Universe”. Before most writers would be on the edge of suing each other – competing for a precious source of money in a depressed economy. Lovecraft loved to talk with them and wrote long, thoughtful letters back and forth with many of them and as long as they added stuff to it was glad to let them use ‘his’ ideas. They even poked fun at each other, such as “The Haunter of the Dark”. If you check out Dark Horse’s recen run on Conan they got a back-comic called “Adventures of Two-Gun Bob” about Robert E Howard – some of the best are from his correspondence to Lovecraft.

Lovecraft seems to have started as a Dunsany fanboy with to use a French term “The sincerecst form of flattery” and then moved into horror but he transcended and expanded the boundaries of fantasy and added greatly to the genre. He wasn’t just another pulp hack typing out words to make $. He didn’t do that well and died pretty poor and obscure – REH before he killed himself made more than any one in his town, including his estranged father who was a doctor – as a side note. But fantasy would be diminished greatly if not for HPL’s contributions, including the appeal of better known works such as tolkien’s and better writers he only could imitate like Dunsany. And modern writers, such as Steven King cite HPL as guys that write stuff that scare even them.

So, yes HPL certainly is a good choice for that award. If we had something non-human what would it be? A sword swinging barbarian, perhaps the classic Frazetta statuse from Conan the Avenger? Or a monstrosity from strange aeons, mighty Cthulhu himself? No, its an award for writers, for the works of men.

Thus I do strongly share Joshi’s offense at this Politically Correct minded change.

[…] Apparently Lovecraft biographer S.T. Joshi is having a giant pissbaby fit about it. […]

Sarah Avery

I propose a thought experiment. Imagine if the highest award in the field, the one that did the most good to keep alive the careers of the authors it honored, were named for a figure whose work offended you.

Setting aside, for now, the question of whether taking offense is justified, let’s use as examples some authors who are often vilified as “PC.” I haven’t read Anita Sarkeesian, but folks who lean rightward tend to hate her. So, imagine a future in which the highest award for fantasy criticism and reviewing were the Sarkeesian.

And if the highest honor for short fiction in fantasy were the Swirsky Award? The highest honor for novels the Jemisin?

Again, I have no quarrel with any of those writers, and use their names only because they’ve been mentioned by conservatives as offending their sensibilities.

Now imagine a future conservative writer who feels about those authors as you do. Imagine, further, that awards are even more important than they are now in vouching for a book’s quality in a literary marketplace where the gatekeeping functions of traditional publishing institutions have continued to weaken. When the whole marketplace IS the slushpile, readers will rely even more on vetting mechanisms to decide what to buy. So our imagined author could take a really big hit to his career by declining a nomination or an award. Writing is not likely to be a less precarious way to put food on the table in the future than it is now.

I’m pretty sure I would decline a nomination for a John Norman Award… unless the alternative was to give up what little writing time I have because my family needed me to take a second job. Seeing John Norman’s face, even in stylized form, on a trophy, or seeing my name rendered as “Norman Award winning author Sarah Avery” would certainly have a bitter aftertaste.

I’m glad I don’t have to deal with the predicament Samatar talked about. I’d like to see a future in which nobody who has worked like a dog for decades on his or her craft, sacrificed all manner of opportunities in order to keep at it, and will probably never have a economically secure career as long as the writing comes first, also has to deal with that predicament.



Welcome to my world already;-)

I certainly could take a “Mental Vacation” and hammer out the P.C. sludge I see on the shelves. Really, go to some online RPG generators for a map, a bunch of plot threads and history, then map out a bunch of characters, etc. Hammer away, careful for the plot and pacing, put in enough P.C. dog bones, such as superhumanly strong women warriors, non-whites who are positive civilized characters, the Orcs have a complex culture, etc.

No more wasting time struggling how I’ll weave so many threads into laconic tales of Blood and Thunder and Mystery and Horror that become short stories ala my favorite pulp authors and D-mn political correctness… I could sit down and hammer out a generic story (making notes, a framework) page after page after page of padding – that’s the way to go, a penny a word ain’t what it used to be!

And it would join the other tons of manuscripts that weigh down publishers desks – or I could go freelance and publish it on my own.

And edge out a niche somewhere, maybe being the next “Game of -” that others then try to emulate…

And, likely, it’d be forgotten and not worth selling after my death… No true story, no undercurrents that even in a world “Beyond the fields we know” people in here and now and later might resonate with somewhere, no Blood and Thunder, no song of my inner joy or sorrow, just a bunch of cardboard cut-outs modernized and politically correct for modern readership- Gnorts the Barbarian who wields a 5lb sword and a dozen pages of how I researched sword fighting to make it correct, Captive Princess who helps to save herself, Cliche wizard’s army that even in Fantasy Gnorts can’t take on himself so there are boring chapters of him sneaking around the guards, etc. (apologies to Poul Anderson)

But I’d likely make more MONEY. Perhaps get rich quickly and be able to quit the day-job, stabbing scissors in the shoulder of the hated boss? (not in RL, as per “The Fisher King” really not good on the Resume) Then I’d have the next novel and the next…and a budget…and worrying about keeping up with the times, with the tiny changes the publisher has me make even when I thought I was already “Politically Correct”…

And I would hope I’d retire someday and write stories that I actually considered good stories… Probably be laughed at by the fan base and the publisher then, even if it was my most brilliant work, people who’d filled walls of books of my work who had maybe a dozen other books would go “Meh” as the last gunfighter chased the dark wizard (apologies to you know who) and the only ones would like it would be weirdos like myself who lost track of the hack I’d have become in the eighties…

But, no, that’s not what I’ve chosen – even started with a handicap here. If my works got nominated for a WFA – well probably would be accused of a “Puppy” move and the owners would work out ways (as in Sandman-Midsummer Night’s Dream) to make sure it would NEVER happen again – I would reject it. Even though if I did have one, even without HPL as seen by Gahan Wilson I’d have the publishers who rejected my texts – “Content made me vomit” is my favorite – suddenly asking to talk about stuff with me.

BTW – Sarah – I like your “John Norman Award” idea – for a writer who sticks to his guns even when the general public doesn’t like him – for the sake of his art and has enough fans to be worth it. If there is one and I have any input on it I’ll make sure (would likely happen anyways) you don’t have to prove you are a “Card Carrying Right Winger” or whatever, just a writer able to stick to your guns and publish/self-publish despite “The Mainstream” disliking you.



Interesting thought experiment. Unfortunately, for me it rings hollow, at least with the examples you’ve chosen. Sarkeesian and Jemisin are too contemporary. It is hard to say at this moment what their lasting impact will have on the field (full disclosure: I’ve only skimmed one Sarkeesian video and I haven’t read Jemisin although I know she has received very positive reviews and is a multi-award winner). Lovecraft’s legacy and contribution to the field is clear. But it’s also the fact that we have historical precedent of his bust being used for the award for years and years that makes the decision to remove it eyebrow raising.

Let’s try a different example then. How about a Le Guin award or a Tiptree award (I know that one actually exists)? Here are two writers whose legacy is unquestionable. Would a conservative writer really decline or even feel the least squeemish winning one of these awards (I suppose the Tiptree would never be bestowed on someone with conservative politics). And supposing a writer with conservative politics were to express their dismay at receiving an award bearing either likeness, would they really find any sympathy from fans and writers in the field? I highly doubt it.

And just for the record, I don’t identify as a conservative (tongue planted firmly in cheek here since “identifying as” is all the rage these days). My opinion on this matter may be relatively uninformed, I’ll admit. You’ll notice that their is no hyperlink associated with my handle on Black Gate. I am that rare bird at least here on Black Gate: just a fan, not a blogger, not a reviewer, not a writer.


NOLAbert- we are talking about “Anita Sarkeesian” – more of an infamous and destructive censor in the videogames community. A while back she got a kickstarter for her “Tropes Vs. Women” project, claiming to be a Gamer who is a woman and said was upset by all the stereotyping – princesses in need of rescue, all of that…

So, she got a mega amount of money from fans, supposedly to take time off of work, buy piles of games and equipment to record and put on YouTube – that was early skepticism of her, btw, most “Gamers” have that already…

She really hit the news claiming she had tons of death threats and abuse and beating the drums of sexism and the media of course backed each and every claim as if it were truth…

She’s slowly been fulfilling her promise of videos to YouTube – more or less one every year, just enough not to be sued for the money back. Also aside from the obvious disagreement with her statements she’s been under other criticism for not being a gamer – including a college lecture video where she admits as much – and for ‘stealing’ footage from other youtube videos – that is someone else posts a video of a playthrough of a game and she pulls the video versus asking them permission to use it or – as her kickstarter she got super super paid for noted – buying the game and playing through it herself…

Already she’s had a destructive effect on the games industry – they are cutting sexy female imagery and adding more token characters – even allegedly consulting her – this is all for an attitude, a handful of videos where outlets like Penny Arcade and other bloggers do much more output of the same quality for free (she missed Dragon’s Crown, a game seemingly made to irritate her, they did good jokes on it) and a bunch of claims of being harassed or threatened but no arrests or anything.

Anyways, a quick search on YouTube will find the hullabaloo on this.

My issue with her is what I’ve said about the paperback industry – scifi/fantasy and how it stabbed itself and why I’m so anti-P.C. – I grew up in a small town with a used bookstore and read lots of stuff published before I was born or in tie-dyed diaper covers – when I grew up and bought “New” stuff – the P.C. shift had taken place – they’d blacklisted or mocked and repressed the cooler older stuff and put stuff out to appeal to women, non-whites, etc. and scrubbed things offensive to those groups. Problem was, the main buyer – the one that pays for it new and buys deluxe stuff – was and is still the male, mainly white male – so if his escape has token characters and politically correct hype telling how evil he is – well why buy the book? So, likewise she’ll probably wreck the video games industry approaching “E.T.” level by forcing pandering to groups that don’t play the games as much and don’t buy them as much but alienating the core market group.

Major Wootton

I assume the WFC will be thinking about a trophy redesign.

They should consider that a statuette of a monster is likely to look like a juvenile thing to a lot of people; and I gather the WF people see themselves as being all about the value of the art of weird fiction.

Wild Ape

Daniel Jose Older offered what in place of HPL?: nothing. That typifies the problem with SJWs like Older that they are quick to tear down but they haven’t the capacity or vision to form something and build it. What or who is their alternative?

Who exactly could replace the impact that HPL had on fantasy? With the circle of writers that he had you might have to go back to Mary Shelley to find one. The trouble is exactly what GreenGestalt pointed out. What is and what is not PC changes with the wind. If you are going to have a free society and free speech then you have to accept that there will be points of view that are contrary to your own. The SJWs that I refer to are against free speech. They are not for justice of any sort. They are for forcing compliance to their world view.

I’m all for the WFC making the award a bust of Jemisin or Sarkeesian as they are the poster perfect images of what WFC is at the core. The award isn’t about writers or fans or anything like that. It is about what those in the “IN” crowd of publishing project their world view to be and let’s face it—HPL is out. Robert E. Howard is out. Robert Heinlein is out. I would say that it would be better to change the name of the WFC to the FWC–Fantasy World Convention. It is just a better fit. It is just another club of liberals to sell their books.

As I typed this I was watching The Librarians in an episode where a Chthulu tentacled creature tries to eradicate the team. The irony.


I believe it was Napoleon who said something to the effect of: “Humans are enamoured of decoration… they crave it.”

The appeal of literary awards is lost on me. They don’t influence my tastes in fiction, nor do they inform what I purchase.

The modern individual has learned to demand that others accommodate their (fleeting) sense of what is correct and to vilify any who don’t immediately move to change.

This, more than anything else, is what passes for progress in such “enlightened” times as these.

It can only get worse.


Lovecraft and Stoshi have contributed more to the genre than their detractors ever will. Another pathetic example of the SJW jihad. Lovecraft will be read as long as there are people reading horror and long after the WFC becomes a forgotten piece of digital detritus.

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