Mentioning the War: some thoughts in the wake of NecronomiCon 2015

It has been a year less a day now, since I wrote this piece, Don’t Mention the War, whinging about the difficulties I’d experienced, getting people to talk about H.P. Lovecraft and the racism that informs a lot of his fiction, and also taking a few steps to argue the case that this was so. I guess there was a bit of Zietgeist going on–because the year that followed proved me utterly wrong on at least the first point.

Don’t Mention the War went a bit viral. Boingboing picked it up, Salon made a note of it, Disinformation reblogged it. And I got what I asked for: some good discussions on Lovecraft’s racism. Anya Martin, who programmed the World Horror Convention in Atlanta, asked me to moderate a panel on Lovecraftian racism there. In Sweden this summer, I led a round-table discussion on the topic as a guest at SweCon. And this past weekend in Providence, Rhode Island, I sat on a panel talking about exactly that, at NecronomiCon, a bi-annual convention celebrating and examining the work of H.P. Lovecraft. Niels Hobbs, one of the convention organizers, invited me to that one too.

All the discussions were good and thoughtful–the sorts of talks I’d hoped to be able to take part in. The NecronomiCon talk was that, but also an attempt at a healing affair. At the convention’s opening ceremonies (which due to some transportation glitches I missed), editor Robert Price made a speech. I’ve heard about its contents but haven’t been able to verify them by seeing the text or hearing a recording.  I just saw a youtube video of the speech, in which Price praises Lovecraft’s xenophobia as it pertains to “Jihadists” and “the advance of the hordes of anti-Western anti-rationalism to consume a decadent Euro-centric west.” He goes on to describe this state of affairs as “the real life ‘Horror at Red Hook” (the Horror at Red Hook being one of Lovecraft’s more openly racist stories). Suffice it to say it caused Niels and the Lovecraft Arts & Sciences Council to issue the following statement:

The Lovecraft Arts & Sciences Council, organizers of NecronomiCon Providence 2015, would like to make it known that we unequivocally repudiate any form of racism, bigotry, xenophobia, and sexism, regardless of what the disreputable views were of a man now dead over 75 years. Lovecraft’s literary legacy lives on, and we wish to continue to promote that globally, but we will do all that we can to counter his more vile personal views. They are NOT ours.
Equally, we are committed to moving the weird fiction and art community further into the 21st Century and making our corner of it one that is clearly welcoming of ALL. We work hard at this, but clearly we need to work harder.

So we talked about Lovecraft’s racism, which is a matter of history and record, and we also talked about the racism that continues to assert itself among contemporary readers and followers. It was not easy going–particularly when, toward the end of the panel, a woman in the audience identifying as Hispanic called us all out: beyond apologizing, she asked, what were we doing about it?

Now I had been going along this past year, thinking that talking about it was the same thing as doing something about it. Patting myself on the back for that whinging blog post, with its title riffing on a bit of funny dialogue from Fawlty Towers.

But you know something about all those talks? With a few exceptions, they were all conversations among white, privileged people in the U.S. and Northern Europe, about the extreme racism and xenophobia of a dead white writer. They were conversations that may not have consciously excluded the people of colour who Lovecraft so consistently libelled, but nonetheless didn’t really manage include them.

That question–what are we doing?–was one for which we didn’t really have a good answer. My fellow panelist Mexican-born author and editor Silvia Moreno-Garcia has done a great deal and promised in her own blog to do more, helping fund a writer of colour attending the 2017 event. Niels talked after the panel about perhaps expanding NecronomiCon to focus on more diverse authors of weird fiction than the one from Providence who’s rightly or wrongly credited as a progenitor of the weird.  I can try and continue to bring a progressive voice into the mix when I write about Lovecraftian themes in the sequel to my eugenics horror novel Eutopia.

So what to do about Lovecraft? More talk. More words on paper. And a lot more listening.

Addendum, August 26: Here is a video recording of the panel:

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