Tag Archives: August Derleth

Hawk & Whippoorwill: Derleth’s Little Review

(Part 2)

[Read Part 1 here.]

Perhaps it was natural that I should eventually gravitate to editing a little review of poetry. I had been reading such little reviews from the 1920’s onward, and I wanted to learn for myself what editing and publishing such a little review entailed. I began
Hawk & Whippoorwill in 1960 and ended it in 1963 after 10 issues. At the outset I hoped to publish a little magazine, limited to verse—“of man and nature,” as I announced it—along similar lines to Fred Lape’s Trails, one of the best such magazines of the 1930’s.

(1971: Lecture, “My Life in Poetry”)

The first hint that publishing a review was on August Derleth’s mind appeared in the January-February 1960 issue of Oak Leaves: A Magazine of Poetry. In the short essay “The Writer and the ‘Little’ Magazine,” Derleth reminded readers that the “principal function of the little magazine for the writer is to afford him an audience—very often his first audience.”

Portentously he adds: “not to be overlooked” are the publishers, “who are usually the editors,” and are “as much in the service of literature as the writer, and often at considerably more cost.”

Derleth was himself an editor and publisher, with three imprints of his own: Arkham House: Publisher, Mycroft & Moran, and Stanton & Lee. Personal experience had taught him that small publishers fill an important role by offering “encouragement or advice” to aspiring writers. He also knew the “mortality rate” among small publishers to be “very high.”

I had previously been associated with a rather costly little review, The Midwestern, published by a university student who had money enough to support it for two or three issues, really rather more a dilettante venture than a bona fide little magazine. And I had edited and published The Arkham Sampler, a trade quarterly specifically for the patrons of Arkham House, with the circulation of which I had no particular problem. Hawk & Whippoorwill, however, had no waiting audience, and, in contrast to the Sampler, which had no competition whatsoever, Hawk & Whippoorwill was but one of many such little reviews in the field. I planned a magazine of 20 pages, chiefly poems, with a modicum of reviews, and for the first issue I had poems from poets like Fred Lape, Jesse Stuart, Raymond Roseliep, Edna Meudt, Joseph Payne Brennan, Joseph Joel Keith and others—all bylines familiar to readers of contemporary poetry. (“My Life in Poetry”)

Derleth produced The Arkham Sampler only two years, 1948 and 1949, but for many years he edited the Arkham House advertising bulletins as if they themselves were Little Reviews, including prose, poems, appraisals and publishing news of interest to his customers. In an unpublished essay, “American Regional Poetry,” Derleth makes this observation: “Regional poets in the first forty years of this century had many outlets in scores of regional little reviews and in the national literary quarterlies. Today there are very few regional little magazines left.”

Cover of Hawk & Whippoorwill, Volume 1, Issue 1

Derleth decided to set an example.

That the contents of Hawk & Whippoorwill were on the whole appreciably superior to those of most of its contemporaries was not, of course, an accident. Most of the best poems were solicited from poets who had been friends for years. Jesse Stuart was a friend of almost 25 years’ standing; I had been the judge in the Kaleidograph book publication contest in the year that Edsel Ford’s initial book placed first; I had published Joseph Payne Brennan under my Arkham House imprint; I had shared programs with Helga Sandburg; some of the poets had contributed to Poetry Out of Wisconsin a quarter of a century before; and so on. Occasional excellent poems came in unsolicited, and in two cases my admiration for their work overcame a natural reluctance to approach poets I did not personally know and ask for work—and these were Gene Baro and William Stafford. (“My Life in Poetry”)

Derleth’s high standards extended behind the scenes:

I did have offers of funding; those same generous patrons whose names had appeared on the roster of patrons for many another little review offered support. I felt I could not accept such support; I wanted the magazine to make its own way or to cease publication. I intended to keep up a relatively high average in its contents, and to that end subsequent issues featured poems by, in addition to the poets already mentioned, Wendell Anderson, Felix Pollak, William D. Barney, Gene Baro, John Beecher, Lorna Beers, Grant Code, Carleton Drewry, John Engels, James T. Farrell, Edsel Ford, James Hearst, John Judson, Raymond E. F. Larsson, David Lytle, Barriss Mills, Sydney King Russell, Arthur Sampley, Helga Sandburg, Daniel Smythe, William Stafford, Felix Stefanile, Jane Stuart, James L. Weil, Norma Farber—whose long Frostian takeoff, “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,” was, I think, the most memorable poem to appear in the magazine—and by many other poets, whose names would be almost as well known to this audience, as these.

Though Derleth wrote verse prolifically throughout his career, only four of his poems appeared in the ten issues of Hawk & Whippoorwill—each issue 35 to 40 pages long, with the final issue twice that length. But he did contribute eight brief reviews of other writers’ books, prepare detailed notes for all ten installments of “The Editor’s Post,” and compile for the final issue a complete index of all ten.

In the Autumn 1963 issue, Derleth bid farewell to Hawk & Whippoorwill, in the short essay “On Publishing a Little Magazine,” which begins: “I undertook the publication of Hawk & Whippoorwill, determined to bring out at least ten issues….” He goes on to explain: “Four years of Hawk & Whippoorwill have persuaded me to conclude that there is very little room for such a magazine on a self-sustaining basis, for there is not a sufficiently large or interested public devoted.” To illustrate his point, he adds:

Subscribers to the first year of Hawk & Whippoorwill numbered approximately two hundred; subscribers to the last numbered less than half that number … It should be made clear at once, however, that no very great effort was ever expended to gain subscribers for the magazine; the press of my many obligations forbade it and left me no time in which to do more than assemble the magazine, proof it, and mail it to subscribers when it came from the printer….

But this scheduled, separate appearance of Hawk & Whippoorwill was not quite the end. After its mailing, Derleth calculated the number of complete sets of all issues that could be assembled from his file of unsold copies—and bound in cloth. Later that same year, he offered 170 of these in pale green.

Spine of the Hawk & Whippoorwill Anthology

Nor was that monument the end.

In 1973, two years after Derleth died, a new Little Review appeared, “edited, published and presented by the Wisconsin Fellowship of Poets.” This first issue of Hawk & Whippoorwill Recalled was entirely “devoted to the memory of August Derleth” and the “high literary standards of the original magazine” it emulated.

Cover of "Hawk & Whippoorwill Recalled"

The cost of this project was “jointly supported by a grant from the Wisconsin Arts Council and the National Endowment for the Arts in Washington, D.C.”

[Read Part 3.]

John D. Haefele submitted this article.
© 2016. All rights reserved.


Hawk & Whippoorwill: The Little Reviews

(Part 1)

In Writing Fiction (The Writer, 1946), August Derleth — Wisconsin’s famous writer, teacher, and bookman — described a pivotal experience in his career, contributing to the small press magazines known as “little reviews”:

Within the first year of my initial publication in such little reviews … I had letters of inquiry about book-length work from the editors of such well-known houses as Simon & Schuster, Houghton Mifflin, Charles Scribner’s Sons, and Harper’s. Within the same period I had inquiries about short stories from magazines of national circulation which included Collier’s and McCall’s.

Cover of "Writing Fiction" by August Derleth

Britannica defines a “little review” as “any of various small periodicals devoted to serious literary writings, usually avant-garde and noncommercial.” They flourished after 1880 and throughout most of the 20th century, having much in common with contemporary journals distributed through amateur press associations and the burgeoning phenomenon of (especially science fiction-oriented) fanzines.

Today the bulk of this activity has moved to the Internet in the form of informal blogging and the posting of electronic reviews — for example, here at the Allied Authors website and at Amazon or Goodreads.

Derleth had shared his experiences years earlier in “A Salute to the Little Reviews,” appearing in the August 1941 edition of American Author. There he recalls that he once shocked a budding author with the advice that “he must expect to give a great deal of his work away.” He also emphasizes that avant-garde or other seemingly unsalable material “commercial outlets would not dare publish” is often “cheerfully printed by the little magazines.”

Derleth’s larger point is as follows: “Editors of all the best publishing houses watch the little reviews with care, and I do not think that there exists a first-rate beginner who has not received a letter from at least one publishing house after his appearance in a little magazine.”

He concludes with this prediction: “Contributions to the little reviews are like bread cast upon the waters; postulating only talent, and the ability to work and take criticism, they are certain to come back in loaves.”


Many years later, in the lecture-essay “On Being an All-Round Bookman” (1971), Derleth validates all he had been saying with this recollection of his own earliest experiences as a professional editor:

Editing at Fawcett Publications involved considerably more than simply passing on manuscripts and conducting a column; it meant working with writers, revising manuscripts, writing something publishable when not enough material was at hand … I discovered that editing a little review — The Midwestern, published here in Madison in 1931, for all the difference between the professional and the amateur, involved pretty much the same kind of work, with the added task of improving circulation and helping to meet expenses.

Coming next: “Hawk & Whippoorwill: Derleth’s Little Review” (Part 2)

John D. Haefele contributed this article.
© 2016. All rights reserved.

The Mystery of the Milwaukee – Chicago – Sauk City Connection

Anything in Latin sounds imposing. For example, let’s take the name ‘Solar Pons’ itself. That’s Latin, you know. I looked it up. ‘Solar,’ meaning of, or pertaining to, the sun. And ‘Pons,’ meaning bridge. See what I mean? Doesn’t ‘Solar Pons’ sound a lot better than just calling someone a sun of a bridge?

—Robert Bloch, speaking on the occasion of the first annual Praed Street Irregulars Awards

Ray Palmer, a founding member of the Milwaukee Fictioneers (an antecedent of the Allied Authors of Wisconsin), was also a literary editor for Fantasy Magazine. Palmer wrote an article about the Sauk City Wisconsin writer August Derleth, which appeared in the March 1936 issue.

What exactly led to this event, I haven’t been able to determine. Even though both men made their careers writing, editing, and publishing (with especial interest in fantasy and science fiction), there is no record of correspondence in the “August Derleth Papers” housed at the State Historical Society of Wisconsin.

But Palmer’s article raises another topic of mutual interest: mystery fiction. Titled “August Derleth” (which already was a broad topic), Palmer covers primarily Judge Peck, a detective character Derleth features in a series of early novels—and mixed in is the hint of something else:

Late in 1936 will appear a book of [Derleth’s] poems, Hawk on the Wind. This will be followed by Still Is the Summer Night, a long serious novel, and Solar Pons of Praed Street, a book of short detective tales.

Praed Street’s Solar Pons and Dr. Parker are also detectives, Derleth’s version of the Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson team. His earliest stories with Pons and Parker are juvenilia—Derleth was a teenager in 1928 when he began—but he sold them to Dragnet Magazine and then to Detective Trails, Gangster Stories, and others. After this early spate, Derleth moved on to other types of writing.

And yet in 1934, he began to casually mention two Solar Pons novels he believed Loring & Mussey (who did issue three Peck novels) would publish. And perhaps one of these by 1936 had become the “book of detective tales” Palmer wrote; only L&M went out of business that year.

Derleth, unlike the unlucky publisher, was just starting; whenever the mood hit, he added stories to the Solar Pons series. Jack Chalker, in the “Fellow Travelers” section of The Science-Fantasy Publishers, nails what he did with:

Good fun if you like Holmes. Derleth was adamant these were pastiches, not parodies; a detective who took up when Holmes retired and imitated him precisely.

Many readers heard about Solar Pons for the first time in 1945 in Books from Arkham House, Derleth’s catalog of the Arkham House books he was publishing. That’s where Derleth first announced a new imprint:

The House of Mycroft & Moran has been organized to produce one book per year in a field in itself as unique as that of Arkham House—the genre of the off-trail detective story.

M&M’s first title would be In Re: Sherlock Holmes: The Adventures of Solar Pons.

August Derleth's "In re: Sherlock Holmes"

As author, editor and publisher, Derleth joyfully set the stage. He intimated that procuring these stories somehow involved Mycroft Holmes, the brother of Doyle’s own Great Detective, and Colonel Sebastian Moran, “the second most dangerous man [after Moriarty] in London”: thus, Mycroft & Moran.

Mycroft and Moran colophonPerhaps they were who approved the deerstalker colophon that artist Ronald Clyne provided.

And the “Baskerville” linotype used throughout…

The M&M books would be sturdy and cloth-bound—each to be introduced by reputable mystery-experts, drawing-room bookmen, including Vincent Starrett, Ellery Queen, Anthony Boucher, and Edgar W. Smith.

Year-after-year, it was all great fun!

Mycroft and Moran letter

What the Pontine canon would mean was revealed in publisher’s ephemerae I doubt that even maestro Don Herron has seen: The centennial Best Wishes from Pons to Holmes, notarized by Derleth himself as well as Mr. Mycroft and Mr. Moran–we can only guess at the number of copies sent out to amuse fans and friends.

But more was going on than could (at first) meet the eye. It was easy to miss how Derleth did more than pastiche Holmes precisely; he was also copying Sir Arthur Conan Doyle—precisely!

All was owned up to when announcing (in yet another undocumented piece of the publisher’s elusive ephemerae) the fifth collection of Pons stories:

Publication June 17 of August Derleth’s The Casebook of Solar Pons will round out what is perhaps the most ambitious venture in pastiche in the history of literature. For almost four decades the dean of Wisconsin writers … has amused himself writing fond imitations of the Sherlock Holmes tales, pastiching not only the tales, but the collections. The Casebook of Solar Pons brings to 56 the number of Pontine tales in print—the precise number of the Sherlock Holmes stories in short length.

More would follow. Watson hinted about Holmes adventures that Doyle never wrote. Derleth, on the other hand, completed more Pons stories that Parker knew of.

Derleth published his first Pons novel in 1968, the well-received Mr. Fairlie’s Final Journey. Doyle wrote four of his own about Holmes, so Derleth promised four. And we might’ve gotten all of them, had the world’s most prolific pastiche-writer not also been writing versions of Thoreau…

And Sinclair Lewis and Sherwood Anderson…

Also Edgar Lee Masters…

Robert Frost…

Plus little-known H. P. Lovecraft. (Aficionados were delighted when they learned Pons’ résumé includes this treatise: An Examination of the Cthulhu Cult and Others.)

In addition, Derleth did “serious” writing (even while publishing)—carrying on the Sac Prairie Saga and chronicling the history of Wisconsin. He passed away July 4, 1971, but posthumous publication of The Chronicles of Solar Pons raised his short-story total to 68.

Solar Pons acquired his own “Baker Street Irregulars,” fans based in California who organized as the “Praed Street Irregulars” (PSI), held meetings, and published newsletters. When the PSI held its first annual dinner award ceremony in 1968, Milwaukee Fictioneers alumnus Robert Bloch delivered the address. Bloch had moved to Hollywood from Wisconsin, the same year his famous novel Psycho was published.

Luther Norris and the group’s inner-sanctum “pontifical council” produced eight issues of The Pontine Dossier during the 1960s and more throughout the 1970s. In 1969 membership hit 600. In 1970 Derleth reported on a London, England branch of the PSI.

Derleth continued stoking interest. Besides the official Pontine canon (six collections and the 1968 novel), he published ancillary materials including A Praed Street Dossier in 1968—containing a brief essay “The Beginnings of Solar Pons.”

Working on behalf of the estate in the 1990s, Peter Ruber discovered unpublished Pons material, including what is most likely the early L&M novel! George Vanderburgh published these in 1998 as The Final Adventures of Solar Pons.    

So where does Ray Palmer fit in?

Though they worked in Chicago, Milwaukee, and Sauk City, Palmer, Derleth, and the other Fictioneers would stay in touch. Palmer especially had reason to: in 1938 he landed a job in Chicago as the editor of a handful of pulp magazines, including Amazing Stories and Mammoth Detective.

Derleth wrote a new Pons story, “The Adventure of the Norcross Riddle,” which was accepted by Ellery Queen’s Frederic Dannay, who was compiling The Misadventures of Sherlock Holmes, published by Little, Brown & Company in 1944.

Just the little things that few people ever know about, that change history…

Aspects of the deal involved the Chicago connection. Derleth’s “The Beginnings of Solar Pons” reveals the key role Ray Palmer played:    

Yet Solar Pons might have been forgotten, had it not been for another fortuitous circumstance … while discussing with Ray Palmer, then with Ziff-Davis in Chicago, the idea of a horror story anthology (later successfully published by Rinehart as Sleep No More!), I mentioned the possibility of a Solar Pons collection. Palmer urged me to put it together and, without committing Ziff-Davis to it, asked to see such a book with a view to publication.

With that added incentive and the promise from Vincent Starrett to write an introduction to the book, I went home and got to work to assemble a collection to be titled “In Re: Sherlock Holmes”: The Adventures of Solar Pons … I got to work and wrote new stories, while revising the old.

By this time, however … I was no longer so willing to trust any publisher with Solar Pons and, since I already had a publishing venture of my own … Solar Pons made his bow….

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

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