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Odd Wisconsin Archive

Happy Birthday, August Derleth

You thought Stephen King and Anne Rice invented American horror stories? Think again. Before they were even born, Wisconsin native son August Derleth (1909-1971) had refined the genre and started the publishing firm Arkham House to bring the weird, macabre, and fantastic to thousands of readers. Today (February 24th) he would have been 96, though it's hard to imagine any writer could live at his pace for nine full decades. Derleth published his first fiction in the magazine Weird Tales at age 16 and as an undergrad at UW-Madison in the 1920s honed his craft under the guidance of professor Helen C. White. During the 1930s he published several books a year, befriended and published the science fiction writer H.P. Lovecraft, and became one of Wisconsin's most successful and prolific writers. He built a modernist house in his hometown of Sauk City that's described in these two 1940 newspaper stories, where you can also see more pictures of him. His home is now on the Wisconsin Register of Historic Places. Derleth was literary editor of the Capital Times newspaper from 1941 to 1960 and continued to write several books a year until his death. These included detective stories, volumes of poetry, and the 38-volume "Sauk Prairie Saga" about his native town, as well as the Wisconsin volume in the W.P.A.'s "Rivers of America" series, history, biography, and juvenile books about the Badger State. He even set a horror story among the Wisconsin Historical Society's newspaper stacks, where a researcher who is accidentally locked in when the building closes goes insane from being surrounded by thousands of articles about murder, violence, mayhem, and death (no one's ever actually been locked in overnight - - so far as we know). Read his short autobiography on the Web site of the company he founded, Arkham House. Today his first editions fetch up to $7,000 each and he retains a cult following among science fiction and fantasy readers, as well as being warmly regarded by everyone who loves Wisconsin history.
:: Posted in Odd Lives on February 23, 2005
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