H.P. Lovecraft is universally acknowledged as one of the most important horror writers of the 20th century, and references to his Cthulhu Mythos abound in contemporary culture. But Lovecraft was also quite racist, a fact made clear in his voluminous correspondence. That’s something fantasy author Daniel Jose Older has been outspoken about in his criticism of Lovecraft’s work.
“The dude was a wild, rabid racist in a very racist time in a very racist country,” Older says in Episode 237 of the Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy podcast. “He really did weaponize literature in a way that was very damaging to people who were reading it.”
Silvia Moreno-Garcia recently won a World Fantasy Award for her anthology She Walks in Shadows, a book of Lovecraftian fiction written by women. She says that many writers of color were reluctant to contribute stories to the book because of his views.
“Some people of color would tell me no, no, Lovecraft was racist, so I can’t write that,” she says. “And I would be like, ‘Well, yeah, but why don’t you put your own spin on it?'”
Horror author Maurice Broaddus agrees that writers of color should be producing their own takes on Lovecraft. He says that what really got him into the Cthulhu Mythos was reading the work of Victor LaValle.
“Ballad of Black Tom was a great entry point for me personally in terms of finally being able to come to the Lovecraft Mythos in a way that actually connects to me,” he says.
Older, Moreno-Garcia, and Broaddus recently helped edit People of Colo(u)r Destroy Fantasy and People of Colo(u)r Destroy Horror, special issues of Fantasy magazine and Nightmare magazine written, edited, and illustrated by people of color. People of color have recently become much more vocal within the fantasy and horror communities, which has led to a certain amount of backlash, but Older says that criticisms of authors such as Lovecraft should be viewed as part of a healthy fan dialog.
“You have to love the work to a certain level to engage with it that deeply,” he says. “It’s the same thing you see with the feminist critique of hip-hop. It comes from love, and it comes from a deep need to express ourselves and find ourselves in the work.”
Listen to our complete interview with Daniel Jose Older, Silvia Moreno-Garcia, and Maurice Broaddus in Episode 237 of Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy (above). And check out some highlights from the discussion below.
Silvia Moreno-Garcia on science fiction conventions:
“I went to one in Vancouver, in a section of the city called Richmond, which is predominantly Asian and Chinese, so when you’re outside all the signs are in Chinese, and everyone is Chinese, basically, and then I went into the hotel where the convention was happening, and everybody inside was white. … And I was just kind of like, ‘Why aren’t these people [of color] here?’ There were a ton of people outside, but they weren’t going into the convention. And it wasn’t like they weren’t consuming products, because I know some of these people watch shows or read comics or whatever, but it seemed like two different worlds. It was the strangest sensation.”
Maurice Broaddus on “Status Quo Warriors”:
“There are people who want the status quo, and that’s what they’re advocating for. And even though I’ve taken a step back over the last couple years from being provocative online, I ended up getting in a shouting match with an editor because he was trying to defend his all-white anthology, and I’m like, ‘That’s all right. Own it. You wanted the status quo, you read only within your little comfort zone, you aren’t trying to find new voices, you want the voices that you’ve grown up with and that fit your little taste, and you don’t want to do the work of finding new voices. That’s fine, just own it.’ So yeah, you have editors who just want to fight for the status quo.”
Silvia Moreno-Garcia on diverse narratives:
“One of the problems I had when I was starting to find my voice is that I wanted to write the same stories with the same farmboy [hero], and then it didn’t help if I just called him ‘Pepe.’ One of the things I’ve been told is that urban fantasy doesn’t sell anymore, and my vampire novel–people loved it, but people said, ‘Well, it’s not going to sell.’ And maybe they were right, but then the answer was like, ‘Why don’t you write something like Game of Thrones?’ In Game of Thrones they don’t have pinatas, they don’t have mezcal, and they don’t have all these other things. So it’s problematic for me to just suddenly say, ‘King Pepe walked into the room.’ That’s not exactly going to work.”
Maurice Broaddus on The Knights of Breton Court:
“This is a story set in the hood, so frankly I was shocked when [Angry Robot] picked it up. But I also felt that it was truly, authentically me, and that was the first time that I really felt like, ‘No, this is the story I wrote.’ But at the same time, I’m playing with some other people’s beloved toys, I guess, because I had all sorts of pushback about ‘you can’t do that to my King Arthur.’ All of a sudden everybody gets really possessive about ‘their’ King Arthur. One of my favorite criticisms was when a lady wrote me and said, ‘Hey, your story is too ghetto.’ And I was like, ‘Huh. That’s interesting. I wonder if the story was set on Mars, if you would describe it as “too Martian”?'”