February 2011

S. T. Joshi

[H. P. Lovecraft scholar]

microinterviewed by Fritz Swanson

This issue features a microinterview with S. T. Joshi, conducted by Fritz Swanson. Joshi began his career as an H. P. Lovecraft scholar at the age of seventeen, in 1975. The compilation of criticism, H. P. Lovecraft: Four Decades of Criticism, that Joshi began as a young man led to a comprehensive bibliography of Lovecraft’s work released by Kent State University Press. He now acts as the unofficial curator of Lovecraft’s life and work, editing the definitive editions of Lovecraft’s fiction for Penguin Books, and working to release all of Lovecraft’s extensive correspondence. Joshi is also a scholar of H. L. Mencken and Ambrose Bierce, and has pursued his scholarship independently, without a PhD or the support of any academic institution.

*

THE BELIEVER: Your prose has an antique style that projects a hoary authority. How much of your academic voice is an aesthetic pose of the sort we see in Lovecraft’s fiction? Do you think Lovecraft just loved the sound of scholarship? Do you?

S.T. JOSHI: I have been working for decades to minimize the “Lovecraftian” tone of my own prose. As a teenager, I attempted to write fiction, and Lovecraft was my inevitable model. I wrote dozens, perhaps hundreds, of stories (now all mercifully destroyed) that unwittingly parodied Lovecraft’s dense, archaic idiom. When I started writing criticism, I inevitably adopted that style, but realized that it was not the most appropriate venue for being taken seriously as a literary scholar. But I’ve read so much of the literature of the period 1880 to 1940 that I appear naturally to duplicate the language and prose rhythms of that era. I suppose there is nothing I can do about that. I will say that I abominate the customary jargon-laden prose that most academicians use; I have always felt that criticism can be written in a relatively normal and straightforward idiom that does not require an array of technical terms that can only be understood by the select few. My criticism has always been aimed at a wider audience than merely a smallcadre of English professors.

We hope you enjoy this excerpt.

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Fritz Swanson is a creator of and contributor to the Lovecraftian “Ask the Giant Squid” advice column published by Poor Mojo’s Almanac(k). He teaches at the University of Michigan, and lives in Manchester, Michigan. You can find him at manchester-press.com.

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