Category Archives: AAW History and Affiliates

H. P. Lovecraft’s letters to Robert Bloch: End of era begins another

In the history of fantasy writing and publishing, Milwaukee was for a brief time the “center of the craft,” but by then the end was already in sight.

Robert Bloch (1917-1994) was an American writer of fantasy, horror, and crime — the famous author of Psycho — who began his career in Wisconsin. As a teenager, he absorbed the fiction of H. P. Lovecraft (1890-1937), the author of supernatural horror and weird tales (perhaps the most significant of all time), affectionately referred to as HPL.

HPL: Portrait by Lucius B. Truesdell

HPL: Portrait by Lucius B. Truesdell

Bloch turned 16 years old on April 5, 1933. He decided to write a letter to Lovecraft in care of the pulp magazine Weird Tales, where most of Lovecraft’s work was appearing. Probably the magazine’s editor, Farnsworth Wright, forwarded his message to Lovecraft, who was then living in Providence, Rhode Island.

On April 22, HPL wrote back to Bloch, “Your very flattering note has just been forwarded to me by Weird Tales…,inaugurating an especially interesting, albeit brief, correspondence between the two. HPL generously answered Bloch’s frequent letters with lengthy missives of his own, in which he mentored the budding author and apprised him of literary news.

Lovecraft’s side of this cycle was published in 1993 by Necronomicon Press as H. P. Lovecraft Letters to Robert Bloch, edited by David E. Schultz and S. T. Joshi. Bloch’s side of this exchange probably no longer exists.

Excerpts from these Lovecraft letters will interest members of Allied Authors of Wisconsin because they shed light on the group’s earliest incarnation as the Milwaukee Fictioneers and should interest the fans of fantasy at large because they also reveal the sad dovetailing of events which brought to a close possibly the greatest era in the history of American fantastic writing.

Due in part to Lovecraft’s tutelage and encouragement, Bloch’s skills developed quickly, and he experienced early success selling short stories, including several published by Weird Tales. In 1935, now 18 years old, Bloch was subject of a feature article in Wisconsin’s largest newspaper, the Milwaukee Journal, in the nationally famous Green Sheet section. HPL wrote Bloch, “Let me congratulate you all over again on the vivid writeup…! It certainly presents you very strikingly & interestingly, & I don’t wonder at the messages & invitations it has brought you.”

One of these invitations is of especial interest because a week after appearing in the Green Sheet, Bloch was invited to join the Milwaukee Fictioneers.

Bloch may already have had other literary affiliations. HPL lauded the benefits of joining such groups, so his comments dated tentatively December 22, 1934 may not apply specifically to the Fictioneers, though they are revealing, nevertheless:

Your Tuesday evening discussion group sounds admirably interesting & stimulating. In a way — except for the nearly uniform ages, & the possibly greater systemization of topics — it reminds me of my old gang … We used to meet around at the different members’ houses & argue about everything under the sun… And did we have some swell intellectual free-for-alls on various aesthetic & philosophical subjects? I’ll tell the cockeyed world!

But there’s no question about reference in the following aside, written early in June of 1935:

The Fictioneers must be a highly interesting group — & the Farley meeting seems to have formed a decidedly red letter occasion. I would have enjoyed the caricature of Satrap Pharnabazus — though I will admit that the latter isn’t as consistently fatuous & conventional in his editorial policy as most of the stuffed shirts at the helms of the various pulp rags. The guest of honour, with his wide experience in adventurous quarters, was doubtless a particular hit with those who follow the ‘action’ ideal.

“Satrap Pharnabazus” (perhaps loosely based on the historical Pharnabazus, a Persian governor or “satrap” of Phrygia circa 413 B.C.) is the humorous appellation HPL used when referring to Farnsworth Wright, whose editing principles he usually deplored.

“Farley” refers to Fictioneer Roger Sherman Hoar, the mathematician, inventor, and state senator, who also authored “The Radio Man” series under the pseudonym Ralph Milne Farley.

The next mention of Fictioneers in a Lovecraft letter written to Bloch occurs circa July 1935:

Glad the Fictioneers continue on their triumphant course — the recent rural meeting must have been a festive event indeed! I’m greatly interested to hear of your meeting with Stanley G. Weinbaum, whose interplanetary tales were first pointed out to me this year. He is probably the only one of the pulp other-planeteers to escape the worst clichés of his province … Congratulations on your collaborative victory with him in the horseshoe tournament — over such learned & capable opponents!

Of course, the members of Allied Authors today recall Weinbaum as another of the predominately science fiction-oriented, early member of Fictioneers.

Unfortunately it wasn’t long after this letter that the first ominous hints of bad things happening turned up, gleaned from the line or two in which HPL acknowledged Bloch’s club activities. On September 19 of that same year, he wrote:

Sorry to hear that Weinbaum has been under the weather, & hope he may soon be fully on his feet again. Pleased to know that he likes some of my stuff.

And then on December 28:

I was surely sorry to learn of Weinbaum’s death — only a few brief months after I was first introduced to his refreshingly original work. I had become an especial fan of his … & now there will be no more stories of ‘Tweel’ & kindred marvels! … The fatal illness seems to have been very unusual, since cancer is certainly rare at thirty-three.

Tweel is the unforgettable alien creature from the classic “A Martian Odyssey” and “Valley of Dreams.”

But it is HPL’s observation about cancer that is particularly foreboding, for it is possible that he was himself, intermittingly and unknowingly, experiencing the earliest effects of his own cancer.

Weinbaum’s death was mourned by the SF community, and the Fictioneers quickly laid plans to honor him. On March 14, 1936, HPL wrote:

Hope the Weinbaum memorial volume will be a success — & that it will contain a good amount of his best work. I shall get a copy … it is surely a manifold pity that he couldn’t have lived longer.”

Unfortunately, the SF community would suffer another significant loss. In June, HPL wrote:

Since I began this bulletin I’ve had the most depressing & staggering message — a postcard with the report that good old Two-Gun has committed suicide! I seems incredible — I had a long normal letter from him dated May 13. He was worried about his mother’s health, but otherwise seemed quite all right. If the news is indeed true, it forms weird fiction’s worst blow since the passing of Whitehead in 1932.

And, sadly, it was true.

“Two-Gun” was Lovecraft’s appellation for Robert E. Howard, who was only 30 years old when he died but already hugely popular and influential as the author we regard today as the originator of the “sword and sorcery” subgenre of fantasy. Lovecraft and Howard’s six years of correspondence, published in 2009, fills 900 closely typed pages in two huge volumes.

Henry S. Whitehead was a fellow writer and another personal friend of Lovecraft, who had also passed away unexpectedly, shortly after he turned 50 years old.

The letters between HPL and Bloch continued, but the Fictioneers were mentioned only one more time, when on October 15, 1936, Lovecraft wrote perceptively:

Glad to hear of your recent sessions with fellow-writers. Milwaukee seems to be evolving into quite a centre of the craft. I’ve heard of Gallun — & believe I read something of his once which was rather good.

Ray Gallun, yet another Wisconsin author of SF, was an honored guest at one or more of the meetings held by the Fictioneers.

During these final exchanges, HPL mentions the only book of his own that would be published in his lifetime; it would feature a single, hitherto unpublished and somewhat lengthy “short story.” The Shadow Over Innsmouth, error-ridden and cheaply made, was a disappointment. And, even though 400 copies of the page-sheets were printed, the publisher could only afford binding 200, which he finally did sometime late in 1936. The rest were lost or destroyed.

HPL’s final letter to Bloch has been tentatively dated to January 25, 1937. Lovecraft died of cancer, only 46 years old, in March 1937.

Fifty-six years later, in his autobiography, Bloch wrote, “There were no words to adequately express my grief then and there are none now.”

Dawn of Flame

Ironically, the Weinbaum memorial volume Dawn of Flame, a collection of his best work, had also just been published. It would share a fate similar to the Lovecraft book. Jack Chalker and Mark Owings, the authors of The Science-Fantasy Publishers: A Critical and Bibliographic History, attest “500 copies printed but only 250 were ever bound and the balance of the sheets were lost.”

Chalker adds this anecdote: “August Derleth recalled that he received his copy of this book and The Shadow Over Innsmouth within thirty days of each other, and they were still on his desk when, a few months later, word came of Lovecraft’s death.”

Derleth was another Wisconsin writer who corresponded with HPL and Bloch. Perhaps inspired by Milwaukee Fictioneers’ Dawn of Flame, he also published a “collected best” memorial volume in 1939 — arguably the most famous fantasy collection ever! — under the Arkham House imprint.

The OutsiderIt was The Outsider and Others, by H. P. Lovecraft.

Nor would it be long before Arkham published Bloch’s first collection of supernatural stories, 1945’s The Opener of the Way.

A new era was beginning.

Science fiction would emerge a full-fledged literary genre in the coming decades, with myriad subgenres of its own, supported by socially active fans. Not to be outdone in the annals, fantasy would benefit immensely (albeit after a slow start), following publication of J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit or There and Back Again, in September of 1937.

Despite writing full-time himself, Derleth’s decision to continue Arkham House publishing created the world’s most important specialty publisher of fantasy right here in Wisconsin, a template dozens of others would follow. And the Milwaukee Fictioneers-Allied Authors of Wisconsin would continue its SF bent, not only with Bloch, but with Ray Palmer, Fredric Brown and Art Tofte. Today’s active roster represents a majority of SF and fantasy writers.

Perhaps another new era is beginning…

John D. Haefele contributed this article.
© John D. Haefele. All rights reserved.


Derleth’s lurid book a rare mystery

August Derleth (1909-1971), the admired and prolific Wisconsin writer and publisher, has produced a fabulous number of celebrated and highly collectible books, many of which are also quite rare.

But is it possible that the rarest one of all isn’t even on most collectors’ radar?

Among Derleth’s famous books is the omnibus collection of H. P. Lovecraft’s weird tales, The Outsider and Others, issued in 1939 by his publishing company Arkham House — often considered the cornerstone volume in any serious fantasy collector’s library, a book which in fine condition routinely trades for thousands of dollars.

Less well-known, and perhaps truly rare in the required condition, is Consider Your Verdict: Ten Coroners Cases for You to Solve, released in 1937 by New York’s Stackpole Sons. The author, mystery writer Tally Mason, is a pseudonym for August Derleth.

The answers to the ten puzzles presented are in the back of book, on pages fastened with a red seal. Finding a nice copy of this book with this seal still unbroken is a Holy Grail for Derleth collectors. Finding one for less than several hundreds of dollars is nearly impossible.

We also find collections of Derleth’s poems filling many of those impeccably designed, limited-edition, hand-made books of the Prairie Press in Iowa City, Iowa.

But the book that might be the rarest — the book the collectors should want to acquire if they only knew more about it — may turn out to be the very last book published with Derleth’s byline in his lifetime: Love Letters to Caitlin.

Cover to the rare book Love Letters to Caitlin

A May-December romance in Derleth’s life (with a lover scandalously younger than he) had become the impetus for two final heart-felt Prairie Press collections, Caitlin (1969) and The Landscape of the Heart (1970), and for that last little goodie, Love Letters to Caitlin, issued under the auspices of Peter Ruber (1940-2014) and his Candlelight Press of New York, only a short time before Derleth himself would pass away on July 4, 1971.

Ruber had been working closely with Derleth to publish the author’s non-genre work under the Candlelight imprint since the early 1960s. Though Prairie’s Caitlin and Landscape, at 400 and 450 copies respectively, had gathered Derleth’s recent love and sex poems, he had just presented Ruber with something better. Ruber announced Love Letters to Caitlin in a catalog that appeared ca. 1970-71:

Readers who remember Derleth’s clandestine masterpiece of love lyrics called Psyche and the Caitlin love poems, have an unusual literary treat in store for them. Here are excerpts from love letters written over a period of two years, revealing an affair with all its passion, tenderness and candor. It is not a book for the puritanical reader, and we urgently recommend that only fully mature readers add this book to their shelves. This is a large and exquisite limited edition, handset type, printed and bound by hand with imported papers by the famed Prairie Press.

Ruber knew fans would remember Derleth’s Psyche, one of his earliest Prairie Press releases.

Sadly, subsequent events conspired to derail plans for Love Letters to Caitlin. In fact, many years swept by before Paul Spencer, in 1981, would unwittingly renew interest in the title, describing to readers of that year’s first issue of the August Derleth Society Newsletter a “curious item, somewhere on the border between published and unpublished.”

Spencer apparently contacted Ruber and could detail the book “produced completely by hand, in an edition of 750 copies, by Carroll Coleman’s Prairie Press,” but added how “Coleman was stricken with a heart attack after delivering less than 100 copies to Derleth in 1971 as part of his advance on royalties.”

But then more years passed until Ruber himself in a letter dated November 26, 1988, which was excerpted in a 1989 issue of the Newsletter, tells a somewhat different story:

The Caitlin book was never released. At the time of his death, all the pages had been printed, and three or four copies had been hard-bound by the Prairie Press to illustrate the finished product. Derleth’s lawyer suppressed the publication…

Derleth’s attorney — according to August’s daughter April, who wrote to me personally — enjoys a checkered record for “putting away” Derleth items for safekeeping. Of course it is quite possible he merely believed the subject of Love Letters to Caitlin could damage the author’s reputation.

In 1994, Ruber was back in the picture, working with the heirs in the author’s beloved Wisconsin village of Sauk City, with the goal of returning Derleth to print. Ruber’s visits to Wisconsin at the time may explain how Richard H. Fawcett, a Derleth Society board member, could recount these tantalizing bits in that year’s publications:

Love Letters to Caitlin came out two weeks before Derleth died. He had given out only 12 copies. All others were boxed and disappeared, under the supervision of his attorney. Someone might have to die before this will become available.

Two more decades have since passed, but the questions remain: how many copies are (or were) there of Love Letters to Caitlin? Just those three or four used to illustrate the suggested binding that were delivered along with unbound sets of pages that could number anywhere between 100 to 750?  Or were 12 copies bound, as Fawcett may have discovered?   

During these two decades, there is only this to report: a bookseller in Greensboro, NC, apparently turned one up and subsequently listed it for sale on AbeBooks in 2010; the ad there states, “Two hundred were supposed to have been printed, but it was never officially released and many copies were destroyed. It is estimated that only 20 or so copies survived.”

(What did the bookseller ask for the book? Merely $3,500.00!)

And this: the story of a second copy turning up in Wisconsin and listed on sale for only $200.00, which sold immediately to another bookman who knew the score and then sold it himself for the equivalent of $1,500.

I knew this dealer and asked him about Love Letters to Caitlin. He said,

It looks like Coleman at Prairie Press was hired to do the printing for Ruber at Candlelight Press — not unusual for a small printer/publisher to take on job work for other publishers, most of whom were not printers. There is no evidence of the title/copyright page being a cancel or having been altered. Furthermore, the book proves that copies went out to the trade — there is a label from Kroch’s & Brentano’s on the rear jacket panel. It’s possible that the print run was quite small, possibly only one or two hundred — the Prairie Press poetry collections were only 200-500 or so each….

So, might Love Letters to Caitlin turn out to be rarest of all the books August Derleth one way or the other helped produce?

Only time will tell.

But the book, if you want a copy — to select a proverbial comparison that is darn appropriate for Wisconsin — is less common than hen’s teeth.

John D. Haefele contributed this article.

Bibliography of Betty Ren Wright’s books now posted!

Betty Ren Wright (seated in the middle) surrounded by fellow members of Allied Authors at a recent meeting she hosted.

Betty Ren Wright (seated in the middle) surrounded by fellow members of Allied Authors at a recent meeting she hosted.

Betty Ren Wright, currently mulling over ideas for her next novel for young readers, dreamed about writing stories and books almost as soon as she was old enough to read them.

For many years she was a children’s book editor with Western Publishing; during that time she wrote the texts for a number of picture-storybooks. She also published adult short fiction in a wide variety of magazines. Soon after her marriage to Wisconsin artist George Frederiksen in 1976, she left editing to concentrate on writing novels for boys and girls.

Her third and quite possibly best known book, The Dollhouse Murders, remains a popular ghost story and has never been out of print since its 1983 publication; it’s won numerous awards, been published in dozens of languages, and a dramatic version was released a number of years ago.

Delighted to find that so many readers like ghost stories as much as she does, she has continued to write them, interspersed with other kinds of suspense and adventure stories. Betty Ren lives in Racine, Wisconsin and remains a long-time member of the respected writers group Allied Authors of Wisconsin.

The bibliography is a work-in-progress. We hope to add short fiction and nonfiction in the future. Additions, corrections and comments are welcome and can be sent to or

Betty Ren Wright’s Books

Jack Byrne submitted this article.

John D. Haefele compiled this bibliography.

Ramirez’s abundant bibliography now available

A new link has been added to the “Our Members” section, below the name of Allied Authors of Wisconsin member Thomas P. Ramirez. This is both a first and substantial step in compiling the complete bibliography of Tom’s work.

Thomas P. Ramirez

Thomas P. Ramirez

Nearly all of Tom’s 150-plus novels were issued under pseudonyms (e.g., Tony Calvano) or publishers’ house-names, which has proven to be an obstacle to recognition. The novels, averaging perhaps 225 pages or roughly 50,000 words each, tally a total of 7-8 million words.

Tom was a later-day “pulp smith,” writing erotic novels during the two decades following the demise of such magazines. The titles, which are shocking by today’s standards of political correctness, were usually supplied by the respective publisher. Most were written-to-order as pornographic novels during the 1960s and early ’70s, vividly describing with words what vintage mass-market paperback covers had, for decades, thrived on provocatively suggesting.

Despite this signal purpose, what could be overlooked is the careful plotting, thorough research and (for those of us who lived then) the authentic 1960s patina that went into the books. Each is written with captivating verve that compels reading.

Tom was ultimately drawn into the industry’s beleaguered history, defending free speech (more on that here:, but eventually as the written word gave way to the VCR and other modes of delivery, he moved on, toned things down and entered the mass-market mainstream. There he produced several highly regarded Phoenix Force action books and even several soap operas for a Ballantine series.

The bibliography is a work-in-progress. We hope to add short fiction and nonfiction in the future. Additions, corrections and comments are welcome and can be sent to or

John D. Haefele submitted this article.

AAW member’s 30-year-old book reviewed anew

AAW member Thomas P. Ramirez ghost wrote this and several other Phoenix Force novels in the 1980s.

AAW member Thomas P. Ramirez ghost wrote this and several other Phoenix Force novels in the 1980s.

Evidence that books are eternal, a novel written in 1982 by Allied Author of Wisconsin member Thomas P. Ramirez  was recently reviewed at Chess, Comics and Crosswords.

The review of Phoenix Force: Atlantic Scramble appeared as part of the blog’s  “Friday’s Forgotten Books” feature.

Ramirez ghost wrote the book, along with several other installments of the action-packed military fiction series.

Read the full review here.


Before publication of Psycho in 1959, before his purely coincident move to California that same year, Robert Bloch cast his spell upon the Milwaukee Fictioneers, that notable group of Wisconsin writers. Its effect began soon after his famous correspondent H. P. Lovecraft passed away in 1937 and endured throughout waning years and the final months in 1954 of the iconic Weird Tales magazine.

In 1987, near the end of Bloch’s life, historian Jack Koblas conducted a 90-minute interview with Bloch (transcribed in The Lovecraft Circle and Others: As I Remember Them, Battered Silicon Dispatch Box, 2012) that touches briefly on this period to reveal a little more of this lost history of the Fictioneers. Under discussion: the 1930s. Subject underway: Bloch’s young friend (future SF & Mystery writer) Henry Kuttner, still a beginner: “You told me,” Koblas reminds Bloch, “that you did something with Kuttner. Did you collaborate with Kuttner?” Bloch answers:

“The Black Kiss,” but he had been trying to sell that story and he couldn’t. He gave it to me and he said, “Do something with it.” So I rewrote it and I used the basic premise that he had, and that was published…. Then I wrote another one for the Milwaukee Fictioneers and one of the writers, who had been a very successful writer of boys’ books, a real good writer, a nature writer, dying to get into Weird Tales. He couldn’t do it. He submitted it. He said, “What can I do?” and I said let me see some of it. He showed me a story and I said I think this will work but I think it would have to be restyled. He said, “Would you collaborate with me on it?” I did, I rewrote it, and it was printed—Jim Kjelgaard, printed as “The Man Who Told the Truth.” Then I did one on the same basis for another member of the Fictioneers, for Strange Stories, Ralph Milne Farley…. (41)

Indeed “The Black Kiss,” bylined “Robert Bloch and Henry Kuttner,” was published in the June 1937 Weird Tales, but this is not Kuttner’s first WT story, though undoubtedly it did help pave the way for others to follow (there would be fourteen more of his own); Kuttner in fact had appeared there nine times already. Kjelgaard had been there, too, logging three individual appearances before “The Man Who Told the Truth” (none identified as collaborations) in 1946, which turned out to be his last. And the same must be said of Farley, who booked eleven stories from 1930 to 1943.

What must have happened is that all of these authors believed they would learn more about their craft through Bloch’s reworking of their stories. Learning from each other was (and is) a hallmark of Milwaukee Fictioneer-Allied Authors, and there apparently was a lot that could be learned from Bloch, who in these pre-Hollywood days chalked up 67 appearances in Weird Tales, equivalent or surpassing numbers elsewhere, and who effortlessly might have landed oodles more had WT not folded.

John D. Haefele submitted this article. (© 2012 all rights reserved)

A Derleth Christmas card

No one has yet performed the daunting task of preparing the complete bibliography of Wisconsin writer and publisher August Derleth, which might fill two thick volumes or more with small print.

Alison M. Wilson came closest, compiling a bibliography of Derleth that is both academic and rigorous, but only in some categories.  Facing a project that was “swelling” (Introduction) to “impossible dimensions,” Wilson quickly realized she needed to waive many standard components of the typical catalog. August Derleth: A Bibliography (Scarecrow Press, 1983) has neither the section of Verse (Derleth’s poetry collections and anthologies are listed, but perhaps a thousand or more individual listings are missing) nor of Reviews and Columns (Derleth appeared weekly at least in newspapers for nearly all of forty years); nor does it have a section of items written about Derleth.

Also missing—obviously—are publications after 1983 (three decades’ worth), unpublished manuscripts and other materials (first uncovered in the 1990s), most published letters, much nonfiction (especially for the Small Press), and many reviews of Derleth’s books.  Despite these omissions, Wilson fills well over 200 pages, listing 736 primary items.

Derleth himself is partially responsible for any lack of completeness, having meticulously recorded, published and circulated his own bibliographies during most of his career.  As a result, few readers found it necessary to track anything on their own.  Unfortunately, this had a downside, for Derleth focused only on his published books and also because the last compilation he did in 1962 is lacking the final (and most important) decade of his life.

I was reminded of bibliographies only a week ago when I made an astonishing discovery in a Wisconsin antique store.  Though only once had I seen one before—and that was in a photograph—I recognized immediately (though they were partially hidden) Derleth Christmas cards.  I decided to purchase the small stack of them, no matter how many or what the dealer was asking.

Print of an original August Derleth Christmas card

There were five cards, and each also featured a reproduction of a woodcut by Wisconsin artist Frank Utpatel.  I will assume that for consecutive years Derleth chose one he newly favored for inspiration, composed a new Christmas/New Year poem, and then stamped these onto heavy stock paper to give as a holiday greeting.  Derleth personalized each by signing them individually and adding to a few warm patches of yellow moonlight.

None of the five poems published thus are in Alison Wilson’s bibliography, where all contents of all Derleth’s poetry collections are listed in full.  So these too must one day be added to make a complete bibliography of August Derleth, and I will see that they are.

Print of an original August Derleth Christmas card

Prolific Wisconsin author August Derleth was a life-long friend of Allied Authors. A proponent of Wisconsin regional writing and fan of genre-writing, Derleth maintained ties with numerous Allied Authors members. A business man and editor, he promoted and sporadically published their work.

John D. Haefele submitted this article (© 2012 all rights reserved)

Dubious Derleth

Though he is gone now more than four decades, raising the subject of August Derleth, the dean of Wisconsin writing, to members of Allied Authors elicits mixed and cautious reactions.

Though few present-day Allied Authors were around when “Aug” (as he was affectionately called) was in his heyday, even those who have not read his many books think they know one thing about the famous Sauk City author and publisher because of an anecdote recounting an event in 1968, when the relatively young Council for Wisconsin Writers, an organization of volunteers promoting Wisconsin writing through awards, education and media recognition, announced the 1967 awards.

Recalled once more, for the Sept. 2007 issue of The Quill Driver by the editor, we have the story this time “according to Jerry (Jerry Apps, the 2007 winner) and told to him by Robert Gard” (U.W. writing instructor):

In the early years CWW gave only one award per year—best book by a Wisconsin author.  As the story goes, Run, Rainey, Run by Mel Ellis and a book of poetry by August Derleth, were among the finalists.  As Mel Ellis was announced the winner, August Derleth, who had written well over 100 books by that time, jumped to his feet.  Red in the face and jumping to his feet and storming out, Derleth yelled, “No damned dog book should ever win over a book of poetry.”

Only this time, either because the unnamed editor or Jerry himself had gained insight into Aug’s display, the article goes on to say, “And so it was that CWW thought that perhaps they should give out more than one award per year,” with Jerry adding, “Maybe it was a stretch to judge a dog book and a poetry book in the same class—sort of like judging a Holstein cow and an apple pie in the same class at a country fair!”

But was this enough to help Aug’s reputation?  Derleth had been a long-time friend of Allied Authors, but in 1967 Mel Ellis was active member.  Derleth helped found CWW in 1963, but so did Allied Authors members Donald Emerson, Larry Lawrence, Larry Keating, Al P. Nelson and Larry Sternig.

To this day loyalty trumps empathy.  But what should interest Allied Authors and others is what influential Wisconsin writer Edna Meudt had to say for Wisconsin Academy Review (19.2, 1972) in the article she titled, “August Derleth: ‘A Simple, Honorable Man.’”  She wrote:

Much has been written of this incident, of [Derleth’s] resignation from the Council for Wisconsin Writers, and of his walking out on their awards celebration.  His actions were misinterpreted as “juvenile,” “a feud with the Council,” and a “lack of respect for the book that won.”  His decision was, in fact, a long-considered one.  As for the “feud” he dismissed that with a quotation from Eliot’s Four Quartets: “Human kind cannot bear very much reality.”  He had reviewed favorably the book that was to win.  And he had been suggesting that the award be changed from “For a Best Literary Work (by a resident Wisconsin Writer)” to “For a Book of Outstanding Merit…” for two reasons: (1) This new designation would eliminate much criticism of the choices.  (2) The award could then be limited (the $1,000 top prize sponsored by the Johnson Wax Foundation) to a one-time only reception.  “As it stands,” he wrote me, “such a designation will always be open to question, and it cannot be limited.  The ‘best’ is ‘best’ and it can’t be done otherwise.”  […]

Derleth’s entry had been The Collected Poems, the cream of thirty years work, restructured to make a unity to stand behind the Apologia—illuminating a philosophy and a way of life; poems that had been praised by major poets from Edgar Lee Masters to last year’s Poetry Consultant to the Library of Congress, William Stafford.  By its author’s published statement the award-winning book was his first, turned out in three weeks at the urging of his agent to meet a nature-book contest deadline.  [And here Edna emphasizes] Again: Had it been for “Outstanding merit,” August would not have withdrawn from the Council; it was the “Best Literary Work” decision he protested.

Elsewhere in the article Meudt reflects: “August had an objectivity that must have been difficult for him to live with, and there was in him that which would not ever permit his taking the easy course.  About the CWW awards she adds, “Never was this illustrated more clearly.”

Knowing this, will it change how the Allied Authors feel about Aug’s behavior that day?  Perhaps not, but it does help explain it.  The “best” award went away—today CWW issues “achievement” awards in eight categories: Short Fiction, Poetry Book, Short Nonfiction, Children’s Literature, Book-length Nonfiction, Book-length Fiction, Outdoor, and Poetry—and the historical record merely shows Mel’s win for Run, Rainy, Run as CWW’s 1967 Book-length Nonfiction recipient and Derleth’s Collected Poems the 1967 Poetry recipient.

Prolific Wisconsin author August Derleth was a life-long friend of Allied Authors. A proponent of Wisconsin regional writing and fan of genre-writing, Derleth maintained ties with numerous Allied Authors members. A business man and editor, he promoted and sporadically published their work.

John D. Haefele submitted this article (© 2012 all rights reserved)

%d bloggers like this: