Tempest In The Fandom

World-Fantasy-Award-Lovecraft-JPGThis is “Howard,” a bronze bust of H.P. Lovecraft by Gahan Wilson. Since 1975, this funny and slightly grotesque statue, equally lacking both pathos and irony was a trophy of the World Fantasy Award.

On November 8 of this year, at the World Fantasy Award ceremony, David Hartwell announced that this traditional — and controversial — award trophy will be retired and replaced by a different award trophy of yet unknown design. How come?

In 2011, that year best novel winner Nnedi Okorafor was stunned to discover that  Lovecraft  was also the author of the following  poem:

When, long ago, the gods created Earth
In Jove’s fair image Man was shaped at birth.
The beasts for lesser parts were next designed;
Yet were they too remote from humankind.
To fill the gap, and join the rest to Man,
Th’Olympian host conceiv’d a clever plan.
A beast they wrought, in semi-human figure,
Filled it with vice, and called the thing a Nigger. 

               – H.P. Lovecraft, On the Creation of N*ggers (1912)

okoraforDismayed, Okorafor (the author is of Nigerian descent) wrote of her confusion — “a statuette of this racist man’s head is one of my greatest honours as a writer”.

She also asked China Miéville about his response to the award, and he said that he turned the statuette around:

“I have turned it to face the wall. […] I can look at it and remember the honour, and above all I am writing behind Lovecraft’s back.”

Nalo Hopkinson (a Jamaican speculative fiction writer and editor) came into the comments on the essay to give her solution:

“Like you and China, I was happy to accept the award itself. As to what I’ve done with the bust? I’ve turned Lovecraft’s face outwards. I want him to see me Breathing While Black.”

Daniel José Older has launched a petition calling for the organizers of the prize to make the late African-American science fiction writer Octavia Butler the inspiration for the statue rather than Lovecraft.


Earlier this summer, the old guard of fantasy got very uncomfortable over a petition I started asking for the World Fantasy Award to remove the bust of HP Lovecraft as its statuette and replace it with Octavia Butler. Lovecraft was an uneven craftsman at best – his stories clunk along, overburdened with adjectives and stale characters. It’s his world-building and imagination that helped solidify his legacy, but even that is tainted by a failure of craft and humanity. He detailed his rabid, paranoid racism in many letters, and it permeates his mythos. Lovecraft peopled his fiction with hordes of swarthy, child-killing and abjectly stupid black and brown people, while women are almost non-existent.”

Many were delighted with the “Howard’s” dishonorable retirement. But not everyone.

S. T. (Sunand Tryambak) Joshi, an Indian American literary critic, stjoshinovelist, and a leading figure in the study of H. P. Lovecraft and other authors of weird and fantastic fiction, clearly wasn’t happy about this development.

“It has come to my attention that the World Fantasy Convention has decided to replace the bust of H. P. Lovecraft that constitutes the World Fantasy Award with some other figure. Evidently this move was meant to placate the shrill whining of a handful of social justice warriors who believe that a “vicious racist” like Lovecraft has no business being honoured by such an award. (Let it pass that analogous accusations could be made about Bram Stoker and John W. Campbell, Jr., who also have awards named after them. These figures do not seem to elicit the outrage of the SJWs.)

Joshi writes, “If Nnedi Okorafor and China Miéville are so offended at owning the WFA, they should simply return it and be done with the matter.”

When it came to his attention that after a prolonged discussion of the matter, WFC decided not to award Lovecraft’s bust any longer,  Joshi returned his two World Fantasy Awards to the co-chairman of the WFC board, David G. Hartwell, and written a letter to this effect, the full text of which he posted on his blog.